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What is smallpox?

Smallpox is a highly contagious infection and spreads from one person to another very quickly. This infection has been eradicated by an effective vaccine since the 1980s.

Definition of smallpox

Smallpox is an infection caused by a virus: the variola virus. It is a highly contagious disease whose transmission from one patient to another is very fast.

This infection causes, in most cases, fever or rashes.

In 3 out of 10 cases, smallpox causes the death of the patient. For patients who survive this infection, the long-term consequences are similar to persistent skin scars. These scars are particularly visible on the face and can also impact the vision of the individual.

Thanks to the development of an effective vaccine, smallpox is an infectious disease eradicated since the 1980s. Nevertheless, research is continuing to find new solutions in terms of curative vaccines, drug treatments or diagnostic methods.


The last appearance of a natural variola infection dates from 1977. This followed the eradication of the virus. Currently, no natural infection has been recorded in the world.

Although this virus has been eradicated, some variola virus strains are stored in the laboratory, improving research.

Causes of Smallpox

Smallpox is caused by a virus: the variola virus.

This virus, present throughout the world, has been eradicated since the 1980s.

Smallpox virus infection is highly contagious and spreads very quickly from one individual to another. Infection occurs through the transmission of droplets and particles from an infected person to a healthy individual. In this sense, transmission is mainly through sneezing, coughing or manuporting.

Who is affected by smallpox?

Anyone may be affected by the development of a variola virus infection. But the eradication of the virus then entails an almost zero risk of developing such an infection.

However, preventive vaccination is widely recommended to avoid the risk to the maximum.

Evolution and possible complications of the disease

Smallpox is an infection that can be deadly. With a proportion of deaths estimated at 3 out of 10 cases.

In the context of survival, the patient may nevertheless have scarring in the long term, especially in the face and May possibly hinder vision.

The symptoms of smallpox

The symptoms associated with smallpox usually appear between 12 and 14 days after infection with the virus.

The most common clinical signs are:

  • a feverish state
  • of a headache (a headache)
  • dizziness and discomfort
  • back pain
  • a state of intense fatigue
  • Abdominal pain, stomach or even vomiting.

Following these first symptoms, rashes appear. These mainly at the level of the face, then on the hands, the arms and possibly the trunk.


Risk factors for smallpox

The major risk factor for Smallpox is then contact with the variola virus, by not being vaccinated. Since contagion is very important, contact with an infected person is also a significant risk.

How to prevent smallpox?

Variola virus has been eradicated since the 1980s, so vaccination is the best way to prevent this disease.

How to treat smallpox?

No treatment of smallpox currently exists. Only the preventive vaccine is effective and highly recommended to limit the risk of infection with variola virus. Research continues as part of the discovery of a new treatment, in case of new infection.

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Updated: December 5, 2018 — 11:06 am
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