Smallpox is a serious, highly contagious infection caused by the variola virus. It's marked by a severe fever and a distinct skin rash. Many smallpox survivors have permanent scarring over large areas of their bodies. The only way to prevent the disease is to receive the smallpox vaccine.
Routine vaccination for the disease stopped in 1980, after the disease was deemed to be eradicated by the World Health Organization (the last known case in the United States was in 1949). Until then, children were routinely given the vaccine as part of their immunization schedules. The one-dose vaccine is currently available to scientists and doctors working with the virus in a research setting.
Smallpox is characterized by a high fever and extensive rash. A person with smallpox will stay contagious until the last scab of the rash falls off.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend the vaccine for people working with the disease. The vaccine can cause serious side effects (such as vomiting, diarrhea and fever) in people with compromised immune systems and in pregnant women. A small percentage of people also report nerve damage from the vaccine.
Vaccination within three days of exposure to the disease will completely prevent or seriously decrease the health risks of smallpox. The United States currently has enough of the vaccine stockpiled to vaccinate every citizen in the event of a smallpox outbreak.
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