Smallpox is a very serious illness caused by a virus called the variola virus. Smallpox gets its name from the pus-filled blisters (or pocks) that form during the illness. Although the names may sound alike, smallpox is not related to chickenpox, which is a milder disease caused by a different virus.
In fact, the last case of smallpox in the world was in 1977.
- How is smallpox spread?
Smallpox is contagious. That means the virus can spread to others. It spreads through tiny drops of an infected person’s saliva (spit) when the person coughs, talks, or sneezes. Smallpox usually passes from person to person during close, face-to-face contact.
- How is it diagnosed?
If someone does get smallpox, a doctor can recognize the disease because it causes a special kind of rash. The rash shows up as blisters on the skin that fill with fluid and crust over. This might sound like chickenpox, but the blisters look different from the blisters that chickenpox causes. The other symptoms of smallpox are like those of many other less serious illnesses: fever, headache, backache, and feeling tired.