Misery to Miracles

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By Richard P. Holm, MD

Miracles still happen

Some think that the scourge of smallpox was present around 12,000 years ago. We have proof it was here 3000 years ago, as it was found on the face of a mummified Egyptian Pharaoh. We know that it caused many large and devastating epidemics, killing about 35% of infected adults and 80% of infected children. Even during the 20th century, smallpox still resulted in 300-500 million deaths worldwide.


Smallpox, given the medical and Latin term variola (meaning “spotted pimple”), describes a miserable viral illness. It was commonly known as the “Red Plague” until an outbreak in Britain in the 1600s. It was given the name smallpox to distinguish it from great pox or syphilis. Pictures of people suffering from this illness would break out with dime-sized firm white or red blisters all over the skin of their face and body. People also commonly developed fevers, vomiting, spread of blisters into the mouth and eyes, and too often came to a wretched and miserable death. If one survived, the common facial pox scars were extremely disfiguring and even affected the cornea of eyes, causing blindness.


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