Recent Blog Articles

Smallpox

March 22, 2019

What Is It?

Smallpox is a contagious and sometimes fatal disease caused by two related viruses: variola major and variola minor. Variola major is the more common and severe form, with an overall historical fatality rate of about 30%. Variola minor is less common and causes a milder form of smallpox that is usually not fatal. Historic death rates were less than 1%. Smallpox eradication was one of the greatest successes of modern public health. Through a sophisticated global vaccination campaign, the World Health Organization officially declared in 1980 that smallpox had been eliminated worldwide. The last known case of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949, and the last case of naturally occurring smallpox was reported in 1977 in Somalia.

Today, the smallpox virus is known to exist only in secured laboratory stockpiles in the United States and Russia. However, it is theorized that other countries may have possession of the virus as well.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.