All you need to know about history of smallpox

This article provides important information about how a smallpox virus can become fatal over time. It is important to know about the smallpox research till date so that we can differentiate between smallpox and upcoming monkey pox.

Recently, new information has been presented about the origin of smallpox disease in a study conducted by an international team of researchers.

  • In their study by researchers, it was told that the existence of smallpox disease dates back to the 8th century BC. 
  • The Viking Age was the period during the Middle Ages when the Norsemen colonized, conquered, and traded throughout Europe, reaching North America in the 9th and 10th centuries.
  • There has always been ambiguity about the origin of smallpox.
  • Yet, based on written records, the earliest evidence of smallpox was found in the mummified remains of a 17th-century Lithuania child.


  • Chickenpox is an infectious disease caused by the Variola Virus (VARV).
  • Spread: It is transmitted through droplets released during contact with an infected person, coughing, and sneezing.
  • Eradication: Smallpox is one of the deadliest known diseases to mankind which can only be eradicated by vaccination.
  • After the global smallpox vaccination campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980, it was declared completely eliminated.
  • Vaccine: The most effective vaccine for smallpox was discovered in the year 1796 by Edward Jenner.

Key findings of the latest research:

  • Trace the sequence of the virus: Variola virus sequences were obtained from 13 individuals from northern Europe, 11 of which date from 600–1050 CE.
  • Virus presence throughout Europe: Based on the earliest written records, a sequence of viruses in southern and western Europe combined with smallpox was present in the form of smallpox among all European peoples in the late 6th century.
  • According to the study, the smallpox virus was still present among people around 1700 years ago when the Western Roman Empire collapsed and people migrated into Eurasia.
  • Genetic Structure: According to the study, the genetic structure of the virus strain obtained from 11 individuals is different from the modern/present version of the virus, which has been eradicated in the year 1979-80.
  • The Viking type of virus was previously unknown but is now an extinct group or clade of viruses.
  • A clade is a group that includes a common ancestor and all descendants of that ancestor (living and extinct).
  • Both modern smallpox and its ancient variant/type have their origins from a common ancestor that diverged 1700 years ago.

Importance of Research:

  • It is important to note that smallpox is the latest among many other diseases whose history has been rewritten in recent years by their ancient DNA analysis.
  • Earlier in the year 2015, a study reported that a plague that killed millions of people has been traced back to the Bronze Age between 3000 and 1000 BCE in medieval Europe.
  • On the other hand in the year 2018, the origin of Hepatitis B was also seen in the Bronze Age itself.
  • Modes of spread: The findings of the study will help to understand the ways in which diseases have affected human populations in the past.
  • Based on the facts obtained from DNA, it can be said that the origin of major diseases like plague and hepatitis B is related to their prehistoric migration/transfer. This also symbolizes the truth about smallpox.
  • This study will also help to know whether migration has spread diseases to new areas or whether the origin of the disease has prompted people to relocate.
Tags : #smallpox #smallpoxreserach #chickenpox #smitakumar #medicircle #myhealth

About the Author

Dr. Rati Parwani

Dr Rati Parwani is a Practising Professional BHMS Doctor having experience of 8 years in the medical field. Her approach towards each and every patient is the utmost professional with high standards of practice. She has nurtured her writing skills and proves it as an asset to her professionalism. She has experience in content writing and likes her writing ethical and scientific-based.

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