We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are the Symptoms of Smallpox?

By D.M. Abrecht
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Smallpox, a disease caused by the variola virus, is one of the biggest killers in terms of diseases in all of history. The symptoms of smallpox include fever, aches, and raised pustules on the skin, which scab over and often leave disfiguring scars. Smallpox, also known as variola, is believed to have been eliminated through a successful vaccination campaign, except for a few samples kept in laboratories under lock and key.

The course of the disease begins with an incubation period, usually 12-14 days. During this time no symptoms of smallpox are seen and the individual is not contagious. This is followed by two to four days of flu-like symptoms: high fever, aches, and sometimes vomiting.

Soon after, a rash of red spots appears on the face and in the nose and mouth. These spread to the hands and feet, then to the entire body in just a few days. Shortly after that, the flat red spots turn into raised pustules which fill with liquid and develop a crater or depression. The "pox" in smallpox refers to these lesions.

After about two weeks of enduring this rash, the bumps scab over. The scabs then fall off, leaving scars. If the individual survives until all the scabs have fallen off, they are most likely free of the disease and no longer contagious.

Smallpox has two forms: variola major and variola minor. The two are similar, except that in the case of variola minor the symptoms of smallpox are much less severe. Overall, the fatality rate of variola major is about 30%; the fatality rate of variola minor is about 1%.

Variola major can be further subdivided into four categories: ordinary, modified, flat, and hemorrhagic. Modified smallpox occurs in individuals who have already been vaccinated, and is usually less severe. With flat smallpox, the smallpox spots remain flat and soft rather than developing into the characteristic hard, raised bumps. Hemorrhagic smallpox is accompanied by massive bleeding into the skin and mucous membranes, which can occur before or after the appearance of the rash. Both flat and hemorrhagic smallpox are almost always fatal.

Smallpox is believed to affect only humans, and it appears that there are no groups of humans with natural immunity to the disease. No successful treatment for smallpox has ever been found, but a vaccination process was discovered in the early 18th century by Greek physician, Emanuel Timoni. Edward Jenner, an Englishman, produced a much more viable vaccine using the cowpox virus later in the century.

In the 20th century, the World Health Organization (WHO) led a campaign to eradicate smallpox using vaccines. The last known patient showing symptoms of smallpox outside the lab was in 1977, in Somalia. Widespread vaccination for smallpox no longer occurs. Some fear that the disease could be re-introduced to the world as a biological weapon, citing World War II experiments by several world governments to do just that. For this reason, the Russian and United States governments retain samples of the disease in order to conduct future research.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.