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38th Anniversary of Smallpox Eradication

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May 8th marks the 38th anniversary of smallpox eradication!

A serious and highly contagious infectious disease caused by the variola virus, smallpox killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century, but now it’s a thing of the past, thanks to animal research.

The basis for smallpox vaccination began in 1796 when Dr. Edward Jenner took material from a cowpox sore on a woman’s hand and inoculated it into a child’s arm. Months later, Jenner exposed the child a number of times to variola virus, but he never developed smallpox. (This work led to the term vaccine, from the root word vacca, which is Latin for cow.)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, horses, mules, goats and rabbits were all used at one time or another to generate the virus, and in the 1970’s, calves became the standard for preparing the vaccine.

After a global eradication campaign lasting more than 20 years, on May 8, 1980, the World Health Assembly declared smallpox eradicated (eliminated), and no cases of naturally occurring smallpox have happened since.

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