Tuesday, 13 May 2014

1974 smallpox epidemic

The 1974 smallpox epidemic of India was one of the worst (but one of the latest) smallpox epidemics of 20th century.

Great smallpox epidemic

At least 15,000 people died of smallpox between January to May 1974, mainly in the Indian states of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. There were thousands who survived but were disfigured or blinded. India reported 61,482 cases of smallpox to WHO in these five months. India had over 86% of the world's smallpox cases in 1974, primarily due to this epidemic.

It occurred during the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program, and was important to the project because Indians considered smallpox to be a routine fact of life. Donald Henderson, who was a U.S. Public Health Services Officer stationed in New Delhi, said that "If this interest and concern about ending smallpox can be maintained for the next few months, it's all over. We don't think we're overconfident, but everything looks good.

Smallpox victim

Yes, historically a smallpox was a devastating scourge. An estimated 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century alone

But the global eradication of smallpox was certified, based on intense verification activities in countries, by a commission of eminent scientists on 9 December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly on 8 May 1980.

Shitala Devi, anti-smallpox goddess

In 1986, the World Health Organization first recommended destruction of the virus, and later set the date of destruction to be 30 December 1993. This was postponed to 30 June 1999. In March 2004 smallpox scabs were found tucked inside an envelope in a book on Civil War medicine in Santa Fe, New Mexico.