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Even when not fatal, the disease can cause significant disfigurement and scarring. It was once the scourge of mankind, wreaking havoc across the European continent for centuries. Fortunately, modern medicine has determined the variola virus to be the only known cause of smallpox, making it possible to contain the illness by eliminating the variola virus. Uncontrolled, a smallpox outbreak can be expected to infect approximately 30 percent of those individuals exposed to it. Approximately 30 percent of these can be expected to die from the infection. The potential of the illness for use as a biological weapon has been proven in the past with its introduction to the ‘new continent’ and its use in decimating the American Indian tribes while more recent research suggests it retains a highly dangerous potential in the modern world setting. According to Henderson (et al, 1999), “researchers estimate that only 10-100 virus particles are necessary to infect someone” while inoculation supplies and efforts are insufficient to meet the challenge. An understanding of the history of the illness illustrates the importance for the nation’s healthcare workers to be familiar with the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, prevention efforts and gaps in information regarding this illness.
For centuries, the smallpox virus plagued mankind, regularly decimating populations in Europe and Asia as the virus was passed from person to person throughout the world on a continuous basis. Smallpox does not survive in animals nor is it known to be a carrier disease, in the sense that individuals might carry the illness without suffering its ill effects, so it can only survive as long as there are humans to suffer from it and more humans for these to pass it along to. With all the devastation that the illness caused, it wasn’t until 1796 before the first experimental vaccine against the illness was