Articles, Blog

How we conquered the deadly smallpox virus – Simona Zompi

December 21, 2019

10,000 years ago, a deadly virus arose in northeastern Africa. The virus spread through the air, attacking the skin cells, bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes of its victims. The unlucky infected developed fevers, vomiting, and rashes. 30% of infected people died during the second week of infection. Survivors bore scars and scabs for the rest of their lives. Smallpox had arrived. In 1350 B.C., the first smallpox epidemics hit during the Egypt-Hittite war. Egyptian prisoners spread smallpox to the Hittites, which killed their king and devastated his civilization. Insidiously, smallpox made its way around the world via Egyptian merchants, then through the Arab world with the Crusades, and all the way to the Americas with the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Since then, it has killed billions of people with an estimated 300 to 500 million people killed in the 20th century alone. But smallpox is not unbeatable. In fact, the fall of smallpox started long before modern medicine. It began all the way back in 1022 A.D. According to a small book, called “The Correct Treatment of Small Pox,” a Buddhist nun living in a famous mountain named O Mei Shan in the southern providence of Sichuan would grind up smallpox scabs and blow the powder into nostrils of healthy people. She did this after noticing that those who managed to survive smallpox never got it again, and her odd treatment worked. The procedure, called variolation, slowly evolved and by the 1700’s, doctors were taking material from sores and putting them into healthy people through four or five scratches on the arm. This worked pretty well as inoculated people would not get reinfected, but it wasn’t foolproof. Up to three percent of people would still die after being exposed to the puss. It wasn’t until English physician Edward Jenner noticed something interesting about dairy maids that we got our modern solution. At age 13, while Jenner was apprentice to a country surgeon and apothecary in Sodbury, near Bristol, he heard a dairy maid say, “I shall never have smallpox, for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly, pockmarked face.” Cowpox is a skin disease that resembles smallpox and infects cows. Later on, as a physician, he realized that she was right, women who got cowpox didn’t develop the deadly smallpox. Smallpox and cowpox viruses are from the same family. But when a virus infects an unfamiliar host, in this case cowpox infecting a human, it is less virulent, so Jenner decided to test whether the cowpox virus could be used to protect against smallpox. In May 1796, Jenner found a young dairy maid, Sarah Nelmes, who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hand and arm caught from the utters of a cow named Blossom. Using matter from her pustules, he inoculated James Phipps, the eight-year-old son of his gardener. After a few days of fever and discomfort, the boy seemed to recover. Two months later, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion. No disease developed, and Jenner concluded that protection was complete. His plan had worked. Jenner later used the cowpox virus in several other people and challenged them repeatedly with smallpox, proving that they were immune to the disease. With this procedure, Jenner invented the smallpox vaccination. Unlike variolation, which used actual smallpox virus to try to protect people, vaccination used the far less dangerous cowpox virus. The medical establishment, cautious then as now, deliberated at length over his findings before accepting them. But eventually vaccination was gradually accepted and variolation became prohibited in England in 1840. After large vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the World Health Organization certified smallpox’s eradication in 1979. Jenner is forever remembered as the father of immunology, but let’s not forget the dairy maid Sarah Nelmes, Blossom the cow, and James Phipps, all heroes in this great adventure of vaccination who helped eradicate smallpox.


  • Reply raid _ksa November 3, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    My grandma so old that she got smallpox and overcame the disease without medicine

  • Reply Lukson November 3, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Anti vaxxers are actually causing these viruses to come back

  • Reply WindowsXP Gamer November 4, 2019 at 1:59 am

    And there was chickenpox

  • Reply Roksana Banu November 5, 2019 at 2:24 am

    *I used the disease to destroy the disease*

  • Reply TheSeventhPrussian November 6, 2019 at 3:49 am


  • Reply CHAMELTOE TCHIKI BRAHhhh XD November 7, 2019 at 12:06 am

    smallpox + IL-4 = death of humanity

  • Reply Hollow That Bitch Daddy Haunt ! November 7, 2019 at 4:33 am

    such a shame that entitled physicians tried to ruin Edward Jenners name for the sake of making more money rather than saving lives smh.

  • Reply Curtis Warren BTW STOP BEGGING November 9, 2019 at 3:26 am

    lets just hope antivaxx dumbasses dont bring it beck…

  • Reply Curtis Warren BTW STOP BEGGING November 9, 2019 at 3:32 am

    our bodies:
    cowpox has entered the chat
    cowpox has left the chat
    smallpox has tried to enter the chat but remembered it was banned

  • Reply Shane George November 10, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Smallpox hurt itself in its confusion.

  • Reply buster buster November 11, 2019 at 6:16 am

    Still dosent beat malaria.

  • Reply poop bum hole November 12, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    bro take the L small pox

  • Reply Gmoney 67 November 16, 2019 at 3:30 am

    It attack the spleen
    me:Ah my spleen

  • Reply Asian Girl November 17, 2019 at 2:24 am

    Karens: “NO I WILL NOT ACCEPT TH-“

  • Reply Mr Duckerson November 17, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Soccer moms: I don’t vaccinate my children I variolation them

    2 days later: children don’t feel so good

    Soccer mom: can you see it’s working!

    3 days later at the hospital:children get vaccinated

    Soccer mom: a frick here we go again

  • Reply Andrew Love November 20, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    What do you mean by "we"?
    its weird how certain groups accomplishments are universalized.

  • Reply Neternis November 22, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Vaccines do not cause autism.
    Autism does

  • Reply Jeremy Cornwell November 23, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Internal legions, if you can see it you don't know.

  • Reply Doctor Kekkles November 24, 2019 at 3:39 am

    Very interesting

  • Reply Llord Makisig Santiago November 25, 2019 at 2:37 am

    its clearly cow

  • Reply David Reoul November 26, 2019 at 7:09 am

    Antivaxxers: Boost your immune system with the actual diseases!
    Live vaccines: hey I exist
    Antivaxxers: Imagine injecting the actual disease into your immune system.

  • Reply vacya. November 27, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    2:04 it was inappropriate to do so, but i laughed…oh, what meaning has been brought to the name

  • Reply I’m a random user If that is ok November 27, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    what animal has saved lives you may ask

    C O W S

  • Reply Christopher Castro November 29, 2019 at 11:33 am

    He looks so mad "not again!!! I don't like you doctor!"

  • Reply jhay pace December 1, 2019 at 10:35 pm


  • Reply Rose C December 3, 2019 at 8:25 am

    i got vaccinated 3 days ago :)))

  • Reply Dens Wolf December 3, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    There is no anti-vaxxers in my country. We vaccinate our children like it's in the law and nobody gives a second thought about it. We realized we've come so far advanced in healthcare and medicine. So kinda confused as to why there exists anti-vaxxer..

  • Reply Bongo Boi December 6, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    I already got chicken pocks when I was 10 so I'm lucky

  • Reply Diya Mandla December 7, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Then, every thing changed when the anti-vaxxers attacked.

  • Reply senthu kumar December 7, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Technically it was the cow maid who found out that she couldn’t get small pox due to cow pox so we should honour her

  • Reply rakkrisr123 December 10, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Small pox : exists
    Blossom the cow : ?

  • Reply Cookie Plays December 15, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    My dad used to have smallpox but he’s alive still 😛 he has some scars

  • Reply Tyler Martinez December 16, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Thank you Blossom ??

  • Reply shortiisweet99 December 18, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    The first 1 – 1:30 sounds like BS

  • Reply oreos December 21, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    sooo… Chicken pox?

  • Reply Yoyo Stoons December 21, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Just live in Greenland, it's impossible for disease to get there.

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