Ever since the dawn of history, diseases have been living together with humans. Side by side, these two thrived together, and witnessed the great events that the world can imagine. And in some not-so-rare instances, they become the historical happenings. The variety of disease is so wide that not all are known today. Characterization of these diseases can take some time, and gaining information on every bit seems to be impossible for the moment. But thanks to science and its proponents, we slowly begin to realize the world smaller than us, the world of the thousands of sickness that plague our kind.
One of the diseases fortunate enough to be characterized is the Smallpox. This is an infectious disease that only affects humans, and is the leading cause of death for some time. The ace of this disease is that it is very much transmissible, and contraction is fairly simple. The history of the Smallpox travels way back into time. The first account of its attack happened as early as 10,000 BC in the agricultural settlings of Africa. Trading of goods by merchants then caused its spread to Europe and caused the deaths of several people, including the notable Ramses V in 1157 BC (Barquet 635).
It then became an epidemic, killing around 400,000 Europeans each year since the 18th century, while leaving a substantial portion blind (Behbehani 455). The menace responsible for the dreaded smallpox is a virus: the Variola virus, having two different strains: the Variola minor and the Variola major. These belong to a group of viruses termed as the poxviruses, all causing some kind of pox-disease. Like other viruses, they work by infecting certain cells, causing a rapid reproduction of their own DNA inside that host cell.
But unlike other ordinary viruses that causes the infected cells to replicate their DNA in the nucleus, poxviruses replicate in the cytoplasm of the cell (Dubochet et al. 1936) A person being infected with this would manifest several complications caused by the virus. The most evident of all is the production of “poxes” and scars all over the patient’s body. These are normally concentrated on the face area and on the limbs. A high fever is also a sign of the onset of the disease, as well as the production of Guarnieri bodies. These are made by the virus as sites for massive DNA reproduction.
A laboratory skin biopsy can then be employed to check for the presence of such structures in the patient’s skin (Riedel 15). One serious complication is blindness, which results from corneal ulceration. The infection causes inflammatory reaction with the eye’s epithelial cells, causing a decrease in function and clarity in a patient’s view (Barquet 40). Another is hemorrhage, where extensive bleeding happens on the skin and the gastrointestinal tract. This, if fact, struck the medical world that a specific name was given to it – hemorrhagic smallpox (Atkinson 281).
Aside from these, there are several other side effects that the smallpox brings. But the most complicated of all effects is death itself. The mortality rate of a person struck with the disease is no more than 30%, and gets larger with those having low immune defense. The massive, world-wide scale effects of this disease can be attributed to the ease of its contraction. The virus can simply enter the body through inhalation of the virus, and a mere distance of 6 feet from an infected person is close enough for the virus to be contracted (Behbehani 500).
Fortunately, the virus has been eradicated through the combined efforts of scientists and researchers, particularly by Edward Jenner. Jenner was the one who discovered a fascinating way on which a person can be immune to smallpox. Milk maidens during that time are very much susceptible to cowpox, a sickness similar to that of smallpox, only less deadly and harmful in a way. Jenner then discovered that milk maidens who were previously infected with cowpox and recovered, became immune to smallpox. The first idea of vaccination was then given birth to, when Jenner took the virus responsible for cowpox and use is as a vaccine against smallpox.
The virus responsible for cowpox belongs to the same family as the variola viruses, and was able to initiate antibody production against these viruses. These antibodies are able to detect specific pathogens, in this case, the variola viruses, and provide ample protection against these through a number of mechanisms such as activation of phagocytes and cytotoxic killer cells. In effect, the human body acquires a greater defense against the smallpox (Atkinson 290). Through the efforts of Edward Jenner, and the world-wide participation with the newly formed vaccine, smallpox was completely eradicated.
In December 1979, the World Health Organization declared the success of the vaccination campaign against the disease (WHO factsheet). The smallpox, while it became a threat to the existence of humans, turned out to be a valuable turning point for science. It started the revolution of vaccines, and sprouted several ideas about immunity and antibody defense. It became a springboard for more research and for better understanding on diseases and how to battle them. It gave us humans a sense of security, on which we believe that by science, we can defeat any sickness that crosses our path.