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You are here: Home » eGM Resources » Health Information & Resources Portal|Home » Bioterrorism & Chemical Agents » Smallpox



Smallpox is a serious, contagious and sometimes fatal infectious disease. The only prevention for smallpox is vaccination. There is no known treatment. Smallpox is named for the raised bumps that appear on the face and body of an infected person.

Variola major is the severe and most common form of smallpox with an extensive rash and high fever. Ordinary variola major accounts for 90% of the cases; modified variola major is mild and occurs in previously vaccinated persons; hemorrhagic variola major while very severe is rare. Historically variola major has an overall fatality rate of 30%. Variola minor is less common with death rates of 1% or less.

Direct and prolonged face-to-face contact is required to spread smallpox from person to person. It can also be spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids and contaminated objects (i.e. bedding or clothing). Rarely, the disease has been spread in the air in enclosed settings such as buses, buildings and trains. Humans are the only natural hosts of variola.

A person with smallpox is sometimes contagious with onset of fever (prodrome phase), but the person becomes most contagious with the onset of rash. At this stage the infected person is usually very sick and not able to move around in the community. The infected person is contagious until the last smallpox scab falls off.

Source: Centers for Disease Control
Get more information on Smallpox from the Centers for Disease Control.

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