Smallpox is a serious disease caused by a virus - the Variola virus. Before the discovery of a vaccine in 1796, smallpox was common throughout the world. The last case of smallpox in the world was in 1978. The United States stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, since the side effects from the vaccinations were greater than the risk of getting the disease.
Smallpox can be spread when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes near another person.
People with smallpox can not spread the disease until they develop a rash, which may begin on the skin or in the mouth. They are most infectious during the first week of illness because that is when the largest amount of virus is present in saliva. However, they can still spread the disease until all scabs have fallen off (about three to four weeks) of the infected person.
There is currently no proven treatment for smallpox. Patients with smallpox are given intravenous fluids and medicine for pain and fever. Most patients with smallpox recover, but death occurs in up to 30 percent of cases. If given to people within the first four days of their exposure to smallpox, the vaccine might make illness less severe or possibly prevent it entirely.
If you have a severe rash with bumps and fever, please consult a health care provider at once.
Smallpox vaccine will be available toward the end of January 2003 to health care providers and those who would respond if smallpox cases occur. Public announcements will be made to direct those first responders to the appropriate facility.