Simon Northup Gets Smallpox

Simon Northup Gets Smallpox STEM Medicine

Smallpox is an infectious disease which once caused misery, disfigurement and death for many, many people. There is no-known treatment, although the disease can be prevented (in modern times) by vaccination.

As he traveled south, from Richmond to New Orleans, Simon Northup was exposed to smallpox. Some of the people on board his ship became ill, and at least one person died.

Solomon came down with the disease after arriving in New Orleans.

Smallpox can even appear in a person’s eyes, and such was the case for Solomon Northup. In his narrative, 12 Years a Slave, he tells us that he was blinded for three days and was facially disfigured as a result of the dreaded illness.

The Centers for Disease Control, which made and released this image of a smallpox-infected child, tell us about the dreaded disease which today, fortunately, is preventable worldwide:

The Disease

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease. There is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination.

The pox part of smallpox is derived from the Latin word for “spotted” and refers to the raised bumps that appear on the face and body of an infected person.
Smallpox outbreaks have occurred from time to time for thousands of years, but the disease is now eradicated after a successful worldwide vaccination program. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. The last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977.

After the disease was eliminated from the world, routine vaccination against smallpox among the general public was stopped because it was no longer necessary for prevention.

Where Smallpox Comes From

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus that emerged in human populations thousands of years ago. Except for laboratory stockpiles, the variola virus has been eliminated.

Generally, direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact is required to spread smallpox from one person to another. Smallpox also can be spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing.

Rarely, smallpox has been spread by virus carried in the air in enclosed settings such as buildings, buses, and trains. Humans are the only natural hosts of variola.

Smallpox is not known to be transmitted by insects or animals.

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.

The CDC describes this image, as follows:

Face lesions on boy with smallpox.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 05, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Sep 07, 2018

Media Credits

Image, from the Centers for Disease Control, where it has this description: “Face lesions on boy with smallpox. Public Health Images Library (PHIL) ID # 3. Source: CDC/Cheryl Tyron.”




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"Simon Northup Gets Smallpox" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 05, 2014. Aug 21, 2019.
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