Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Not Quite Gone, Almost Forgotten
In 1980, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been eradicated. Stores of this DNA virus remain in Russia and the United States, for research purposes, and in the case of a rogue sample being released. Just recently, the World Health Assembly delayed the decision to eliminate the stores.
The last smallpox infection was seen in 1977, and many doctors today would only recognize it as constructed in medical text and history books.
I recently found these two illustrations by Megan Pearce, an incredibly talented artist. They are from her blog, but she has started a new website, so go here if you would like more information about her work.
A lot of older people would be able to describe the skin lesions of smallpox, and that the people who survived often had scars that remained. Many famous people survived it including George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and many of Henry VIII's relatives. They were the lucky ones--30% of the infected died, mainly due the more severe forms of the infection. In a few of the ones who survived, blindness and limb deformities resulted.
Initially there was a prodrome of fever, headache, muscle ache, nausea, and back pain that lasted for up to 4 days. Then lesions would erupt in the mouth, throat, and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. A few days later, a skin rash would appear, and lesions would develop on the face and spread all over the body. Smallpox could take four forms: ordinary, modified, malignant, or hemorrhagic. The malignant and hemorrhagic forms were the most lethal.
Like the second man above, people who survived often felt as it they disappeared as their scars remained. Stalin had smallpox as a child, and as a leader, had his photographs retouched to remove the scars--they were, like smallpox, not quite gone, but almost forgotten.