Black pox (Variola vera), or small pox, was one of the most terrible diseases that humanity has ever encountered. It spread rapidly, and its victims died in agony, covered with festering ulcers. It disappeared more than 40 years ago, although a cure for it has never been invented.
Currently, the last two samples of Variola major virus are in laboratories (in the United States and Russia). Before that, it decimated humanity. Even every third sick person died! In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it was the most common of the most dangerous infectious diseases and the most common cause of death, especially among children! In total, it killed nearly 60 million people in Europe then!
The pox virus was very virulent and spread easily, mainly by droplets or through contact with secretions, from purulent vesicles and scabs. The incubation period ranged from 10 to 15 days, so infected people could transmit the murderous virus long distances before becoming sick themselves. The disease struck down its victims instantly. First there was high fever, then headache, back pain and muscle aches, and sometimes haemorrhages in internal organs, including the lungs.
Some infected died at this stage, but most lived on. They had a rash – red lumps that turned into purulent, painful blisters. In many cases, they covered the whole body, and the sick person looked like a monster. Those who survived the feverish meltdown survived and the ulcers dried up. Characteristic beaks remained on their faces. Elizabeth I and Georges Jacques Danton lived with such traces.
With mankind from time immemorial
She has performed almost in every corner of the world. Scientists suspect that it came to Europe from what is now Iraq and Egypt – ancient river civilizations. Smallpox traces were found on the body of Egyptian pharaohs. Its epidemics probably already hit ancient Rome. However, researchers do not agree whether it was smallpox or another infectious disease that causes blisters, such as measles and scarlet fever. In the 4th and 8th centuries, it appeared in China and Japan. In the early Middle Ages, plague also broke out in Portugal and Morocco, northern Europe, in the steppes of Asia and in Africa, south of the Sahara. At the beginning of the 16th century, it crossed the Atlantic with Europeans and devastated the American Indians. She was one of the most important reasons for the collapse of Central and South American civilizations.
The Indians were completely immune to the Variola major virus. It is estimated that he killed thousands of Aztec warriors, North American Indians and up to 90 percent of the Inca population. From the sixteenth century until the early twentieth century, smallpox took its death toll in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Then she slowly withdrew, only to disappear altogether. How did this happen? She was overcome by the power of human reason.
Variation - the prototype of protective vaccines
For centuries, mankind has been completely defenseless against the deadly virus. Various, sometimes bizarre practices were tried. For example, it was believed that the sick would bring relief … red curtains or therapeutic baths. But there was never really a cure for smallpox. Those whose organism overcame the disease by itself survived. Variola major could not be won, but its range could be limited. The sick were isolated. However, this did not stop the epidemics from breaking out with redoubled force.
However, there were places where the virus has been dealt with. In China, hundreds of years ago, they used a primitive type of vaccination (variolization). Healthy people got infected on purpose by rubbing secretions from ulcers of sick people into their skin. Infected in this way passed the smallpox much more gently. And most importantly, they gained resistance to it.
Variance was applied in 1721 during the Boston plague. Among its subjects, the death rate was only 2.5 percent. The method became quite common, especially in France when King Louis XV died of smallpox. Variolization was not as effective as vaccinations, as it posed a risk of serious complications, and the subjects infected others. Most importantly, however, she contributed to the invention of the vaccine.
The vaccine wins over black pox
The English physician Edward Jenner in the late 18th century pointed out that some artificially infected people did not get smallpox. It turned out that they were those who suffered from smallpox, known as cow, as a child. So Jenner used material from sick cattle pustules and vaccinated selected people with it, including his own son! The method worked. In 1798 the world learned about her. By 1811, one million seven hundred thousand people had been vaccinated in France alone. By the 20th century, deaths in Western and Central Europe had dropped to almost zero. Here and there there were only outbreaks of disease brought from Africa or Asia.
By 1974 smallpox had disappeared from most countries except India, Somalia and Ethiopia. Its last case was recorded in Somalia in 1977. And in 1979, the World Health Organization announced a complete eradication of smallpox. Today, her virus is found in only two heavily guarded laboratories – the Institute of Viral Preparations in Moscow and the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Smallpox epidemic in Wrocław
In Poland, the last outbreak of the disease broke out in July 1963 in Wrocław. It was dragged by a Polish secret services officer returning from India. However, smallpox was diagnosed as malaria. The officer got infected with the ward. Since she had a milder form of disease, doctors mistook her for Variola vera for chickenpox. The hall continued to infect, first her daughter, then her son. Smallpox was not diagnosed in them either, so it continued to spread. Only a month and a half later it was found out that it was, after all, smallpox. Meanwhile, the daughter of an attendant, suspected of galloping leukemia, died, and several dozen other people became infected with the virus. On July 15, an anti-epidemiological emergency was announced in the city. Wrocław was surrounded by a sanitary cordon.
Suspects of infection or contact with the sick were isolated. About 200,000 were vaccinated against smallpox. residents of Wrocław and approx. 2 million people throughout Poland. Quarantine in place. Unvaccinated people were not allowed to enter the city. Even though the summer was hot, life on the Odra River died for a few weeks. There was a mood of horror and people lived in panic of disease. The situation calmed down only on September 19, when the epidemiological alert was canceled and blockades were lifted. A total of 99 people contracted smallpox then, and seven of them died. The last time the plague broke out in Europe was in 1972 in Yugoslavia. 175 people fell ill then and 35 died.