What Is Smallpox?

]]>Smallpox]]> is a disease caused by a virus. At one time, it was one of the world’s most feared infections. Smallpox has no treatment or cure. It can be fatal. Because of a worldwide vaccination effort, smallpox is virtually nonexistent. The last case in the US was in 1949. Because there have been no cases of smallpox reported anywhere, the vaccine is no longer given.

Because of bioterrorism threats, it’s important to remember the facts about smallpox.

Smallpox can be spread from person to person by direct, face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through bodily fluids or linens and clothing that have been contaminated. Smallpox can be spread through the air, although this is rare.

The primary symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting

As the virus progresses, a red rash appears on the tongue and in the mouth. The rash then spreads. Spots begin to break open. The rash spreads across the body. It turns from red spots into raised bumps. By day four, the bumps fill with fluid and have a depression in the middle. Scabs form over all of the bumps.

What Is the Smallpox Vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine contains a live virus, called the vaccinia virus. This is related to smallpox. The vaccine is given as a shot.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

If you have come in contact with the virus or at risk, you should get the vaccine. The vaccine is not given to the general public. If you are in the military and work in high-threat areas, you will get the vaccine.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Smallpox Vaccine?

Because a live virus is injected into the skin, it is possible to spread it to other areas of the body, or even to other people. The injection site must be protected to prevent this from happening.

Common side effects of smallpox vaccine include:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Soreness in the arm

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

The following individuals should not get vaccinated:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Children less than 12 months old
  • People who have had a previous allergic reaction to the vaccine or any of its components
  • People with ]]>eczema]]> or who have had a history of eczema or other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis
  • People with skin conditions, such as ]]>burns]]>, ]]>chickenpox]]>, ]]>shingles]]>, ]]>impetigo]]>, ]]>herpes]]>, ]]>severe acne]]>, or ]]>psoriasis]]>—wait until healed before getting the vaccine
  • People with heart disease, heart conditions, multiple risk factors for heart disease, or ]]>stroke]]>-like symptoms
  • People with weakened immune systems (eg, those who have received a transplant, have ]]>HIV]]>, are receiving ]]>cancer]]> treatment, or are taking medicines that suppress the immune system, including steroids)

Talk to your doctor to find out if the vaccine is safe for you.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

If an outbreak happens, the US has a large supply of the smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the entire population.