The Ghosts of Smallpox Past, Present, and Yet to Come

By Meghan Mulvey

Smallpox, which results from the transmission of the variola virus, is a deadly disease that plagued mankind for centuries. With the help of worldwide immunization efforts, the infectious disease was eradicated around 1980. However, in 2017, scientists in Canada were able to manufacture a virus very similar to the one that causes smallpox, and they have now published a guide on how to create the smallpox-like virus in a lab. These recent discoveries have encouraged infectious disease experts to evaluate what would happen if smallpox were to reemerge. During the time since smallpox has been eradicated, modern medicine has advanced to the point where many people are able to stay alive with a weakened immune system. For example, those with HIV and those undergoing treatment for cancer all have weakened immune systems, but medical advancements have helped them stay alive. Moreover, approximately 20% of people in large cities like New York City have a weakened immune system. This all makes the impact of a potential smallpox attack more threatening. Specialists in the areas of immunology and infectious disease warn that it is crucial for people in the healthcare field to receive vaccinations to minimize a smallpox outbreak if one were to occur. Additionally, Professor Mike Lane, who is the former director of the United States Centers for Disease Control Smallpox Eradication Program ensures that if a smallpox outbreak were to occur, following public health standards and vaccinations should be able to keep it under control.


University of New South Wales. (2018, March 3). Planning for smallpox outbreak must consider immunosuppression. ScienceDaily . Retrieved March 9, 2018 from