Smallpox Does Its Dirty Deed

Smallpox virus is an equal opportunity borrower.

It has to live.

It has to replicate itself in order to live. It has to borrow human cells in order to replicate. It has to continually find new cells that are usable–cells that aren’t already mutilated. When it has used up the cells in one human host it has to move on to another.

No discrimination here. Smallpox doesn’t care who it borrows cells from. Its host can live in a palace or under a bridge. It’s all the same to the virus.


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The “dumbbell-shaped” structure inside the smallpox virion is the viral core, which contains the viral DNA. This DNA acts as the 
blueprint by which the virus replicates itself once it is 
released into the host cell. Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): CDC/ Dr. Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield, Public Health Image Library</a> (PHIL).


Photo of mother with severely smallpox-scarred baby, World Health Organization pictorial guide to smallpox

Version 2
World Health Organization smallpox identification photos


Watch for future posts on these topics and more:  

  • disease detectives
  • smallpox in history
  • folk remedies tried
  • earlier methods of prevention
  • the vaccine that worked
  • family experiences
  • global health news
  • the debate: maintain or destroy the remaining vials of smallpox virus
  • Our family in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon 

Which of the above topics interests you the most? I’d love to hear.

You may also enjoy other pages of this website.











14 thoughts on “Smallpox Does Its Dirty Deed

  1. Yes, Irene, heartbreaking is an appropriate description for smallpox. Thanks for visiting my blog and for letting me know which one on my list of future topics most sparks your curiosity. And your final question–how do the smallpox vials rate on the scare scale–is one that will lead into further research. Thanks again.

  2. The mortality rate from smallpox was variable depending on many factors such as population density and the nutritional status of a population. In Southeast Asia, some sources place mortality at 30%-40%. In West Africa it was 20%-30%. But in South America and certain parts of East Africa deaths from smallpox were rare. I’ll write more about that in a future post. Thanks for your kind words and for bringing up an interesting topic, Pam. I’ll write more about it in a future post.

  3. What a heartbreaking progression smallpox is. All of your ideas for topics sound interesting to me, but the one that sparks my curiosity the most because I’m wondering what experts would chime in with is the debate about keeping vials of smallpox around. Learning more about how those vials may be used versus the risk they may have would be fascinating, especially if the risk factor of those vials were presented in context with the risk factor of keeping vials of other diseases. How do the smallpox vials rate on the scary scale?

  4. What a scary description of how the virus works. A valuable thing for us all to be aware of.

    Do you know what the mortality rate was, before smallpox was eradicated?

    Thank you for a very well-written blog.

  5. Great writing. Ethel Ethel Lee-Miller Tucson Arizona USA Enhanced Life Management- Author, Public Speaker, Writing Seminars h 520.638.7343 c 973.460.4192 Author: Seedlings, Stories of Relationships ( 2014 NM-AZ Book Awards finalist) Author: Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort Toastmasters Int’l – DTM. 1997-2017 Amazon Author Central Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +


  6. Thank you, Tess, for such encouraging comments. I’m glad you learned something new about the smallpox virus. So far as eradication, the last naturally occurring case of smallpox was diagnosed in 1977. After that, for more than two years the World Health Organization sent workers and volunteers into every nook and cranny of the globe. They checked and double-checked and re-checked for all of those months before WHO could confidently declare the world smallpox-free. I hope you continue to find new and interesting information in my posts. Thanks again.

  7. Thank you dtills. It’s gratifying to hear from someone whose background gives further weight to the conversation. My readers, and all the rest out there, need good information. I appreciate your participating in getting this important information out to the world.

  8. Wow, that was an education! I did not know how smallpox propagated, or what it looked like. I’m so glad it seems to be eradicated. Those poor babies!!!

  9. I taught immunology for 12 years and I get so frustrated when people choose not to immunize their children due to faulty information. These diseases are still in our population just waiting for a chance to re-emerge. Third world nations would love to have access to these vaccines and the first world population takes them for granted!

  10. I appreciate your comments, Mary Lou. Indeed, even in the case of smallpox there were anti-vaccination proponents. Fortunately for humanity, their voices were not allowed to prevail. Thank you for reading and for sharing this important message.

  11. Thanks so much for the encouraging words and for your input, Janice. I think many others will be interested in the debate about whether all smallpox samples should be destroyed.

  12. I would be interested in the debate about destroying the present vials. Why would any nation want to risk this horrible disease getting loose again? Your description of how it invades the body and steals cells was very well-written and the photos of those poor babies makes you sick.

  13. Thanks Bee. You teach a hard lesson but a valuable one to learn about. As we face these days of the ignorant believing that their babies shouldn’t be vaccinated from Measles or other childhood diseases, thus encouraging the spread of these diseases, we need all the reminder we can get.
    Thank you,
    Mary Lou

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