South Carolina Health Alert Network
What is smallpox?
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.
How is smallpox spread?
Smallpox can be spread when an infected person talks, coughs,
or sneezes near another person.
What are the symptoms?
- Symptoms begin to appear within
seven to 19 days after being exposed to the virus. The first
symptoms may include high fever (above 101° F), feeling
tired, headache and backache. One to four days after the first
symptoms, the infected person develops a rash that is seen
mainly on the face, legs and arms. The rash starts as flat,
red sores; over the next two days, these sores fill with pus.
The sores begin to form a crust early in the second week of
illness and then develop into scabs.
- The scabs fall off after three
to four weeks.
How long is a person with smallpox able to spread the disease?
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
What treatment is available for smallpox?
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.
What do I do if I have smallpox symptoms?
If you have a severe rash with bumps and fever, please consult a health
care provider at once.
When can I be vaccinated?
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.
Information for the General Public
Information for Health Care Providers