Smallpox, the only infectious disease to have been eradicated, was one of the most terrifying of human scourges. It covered the skin with hideous, painful boils, killed a third of its victims, and left the survivors disfigured for life. In this riveting, often terrifying look at the history of smallpox, Jonathan B. Tucker tells the story of this deadly disease, the heroic efforts to eradicate it worldwide, and the looming dangers it still poses today.
Beginning in the sixteenth century, smallpox afflicted rich and poor alike, repeatedly altering the course of human history. No vaccine existed until 1796, when an English country doctor named Edward Jenner developed one. While this vaccination banished the virus from industrialized countries, smallpox remained a major cause of death in the developing world. Finally, in 1967, the World Health Organization launched an intensified global campaign to eradicate smallpox worldwide. By early 1978, the disease had been eliminated.
During the 1980s, Soviet leaders cynically exploited the world’s new vulnerability to smallpox by mass-producing the virus as a strategic weapon. In recent years, concern over the possible return of smallpox has taken an even greater urgency with the realization that clandestine stocks of the virus may still exist.