Learning from smallpox: How to eradicate a disease – Julie Garon and Walter A. Orenstein

Learning from smallpox: How to eradicate a disease – Julie Garon and Walter A. Orenstein


For most of human history, medical workers sought
to treat diseases or cure them. The rise of vaccination
in the 19th century enhanced the potential to prevent people from contracting illnesses
in the first place. But only in recent decades did it
become possible to ensure that a particular disease
never threatens humanity again. The story of smallpox, the first and, so far, the only disease to be permanently
eradicated from the world, shows how disease eradication can happen
and why it is so difficult to achieve. Smallpox emerged in human populations
thousands of years ago as a contagious virus that spread rapidly, primarily through close,
face to face contact, causing fever, aches and rashes. It killed up to 30% of its victims and often left survivors with life-long
disfiguring scars. The devastating impact
of smallpox was so great that several cultures had religious
deities specifically dedicated to it. In the 20th century alone, it is estimated to have killed
more than 300 million people worldwide. With the effective
deployment of vaccination, the number of cases began to decrease. By seeking out infected individuals, isolating them, and vaccinating their contacts
to prevent further transmission, scientists realized that the spread
of the disease could be haulted. In fact, because smallpox could
only survive in human hosts, vaccinating all of an infected persons’
potential contacts would stop the virus dead in its tracks and eliminate it from that region. Once this strategy had succeeded in ridding most industrialized countries
from disease, health officials realized that eradicating
it worldwide was within reach. But this was not an easy process, proving especially difficult in places
suffering from poor infrastructure or civil wars. The eradication effort took decades and involved millions
of people working together, from world leaders
and international organizations to rural doctors and community workers. In India, one of the last
strongholds of the disease, health workers visited every one
of the country’s 100 million households to search for cases. Through this unprecedented
worldwide effort, in which even rival
superpowers cooperated, smallpox was finally
declared eradicated in 1980, saving approximately 40 million lives
over the following two decades. There were several factors that made smallpox
an ideal candidate for eradication. First, humans are essential
to the smallpox lifecycle, so breaking the chain
of human to human transmission causes the virus to die out. In contrast, many other pathogens,
like ebola or the bubonic plague, can survive in animal carriers, while the bacteria that cause tetanus
can even live in the soil. Secondly, individuals
infected with smallpox displayed a characteristic rash,
making them easy to identify, even without a lab test. The lack of such practical
diagnostic tools for diseases with non-specific symptoms,
or that have long incubation periods, such as AIDS,
makes their eradication more difficult. Third, the availability
of a smallpox vaccine that provided immunity
for five to ten years in a single dose meant that there was
an effective intervention to stop the virus from spreading. And finally, the initial success
of several countries in eliminating the disease
within their borders served as a proof of principle
for its eradication worldwide. Today, the same criteria
are applied to determine whether other diseases
can be similarly eliminated. And even though smallpox remains
the only success story thus far, several other pathogens
may be next in line. Great progress has been made
towards eradicating guinea worm disease simply by use of water filters. And vaccination for polio, which previously disabled hundreds
of thousands of people each year is estimated to have prevented 13 million
cases of paralysis, and 650,000 deaths since 1988. With a 99% drop in infections
since the eradication effort began, one final push is all that is needed to ensure that polio
will never paralyze another child. Disease eradication is one public health
effort that benefits all of humanity and challenges us to work together
as a global community. Beyond eliminating specific diseases, eradication programs benefit
local populations by improving health infrastructure. For example, Nigeria recently
used facilities and personnel from their polio eradication program
to effectively control an ebola outbreak. Further more, globalization
and international travel means that even a single infection
anywhere in the world can potentially spread to other regions. By helping to protect others,
we help to protect ourselves. Disease eradication is the ultimate gift
we can give to everyone alive today, as well as all future
generations of humanity.

98 thoughts on “Learning from smallpox: How to eradicate a disease – Julie Garon and Walter A. Orenstein

  1. Smallpox actually still exist. But it's being kept in a "cell" to keep it from spreading. Russia has one of these cells and the US has one to.

  2. viruses are storedand saved in capsules like how the supermarkets store their products
    if the government needs money they release a virus to get people sick so they can sell a cure and become bloody rich
    blood money for the win

  3. Unpopular opinion:

    What about population explosion? Various species on Earth have some factor or the other that keeps a check on its population. We have limited resources and an ever-growing population. This doesn't seem to have a happy ending.

    *braces myself*

  4. We just finished watching the film Contagion in Bio.The things we humans can do if we put our minds together is extraordinary.The world had their mind set on eradicating Small Pox and gone.

  5. a bit late to take advantage of the cash grab from the outbreak, but I think people will still respond predictably.

  6. At this time, it was relatively easy to eradicate in comparison to how it would be now. Back then, there weren't that many health policies that prevented people to go to Africa and vaccinate a village without the consent of the villagers. They would just do it. Now, it is much more difficult. Nevertheless, i have a lot of hope for humanity and maybe we can work on eradicating other illnesses πŸ˜€

  7. The number of lives saved is staggering. Doctors and medical researchers, they are the silent true heroes of our society.

  8. I hope sometime in my lifetime we'll be able to do the same with HIV. Because of the stigma surrounding it, it's a bit of a stretch. But I'm still young, transmission isn't as high, and we've got drugs like PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), so please excuse my optimism πŸ˜€

  9. boo, vaccine are bad, they cause autism… getting measle is obviously better then autism.

    if you agree with me, you need an education..

  10. People who don't get vaccinations and infect other people who can't because they're too young or their immune systems are too weak resulting in their death, deserve to die.

  11. en MΓ©xico existen aΓΊn algunos casos de viruela, incluso yo la tuve, la manera de erradicarla que tenia la gente con pocos recursos era el contagiarse a temprana edad ya que en infantes lis sΓ­ntomas son menores, y solo puede dar una vez en la vida

  12. I can't believe there exists a "make a wish" foundation that sends kids to disneyland, while we're not putting the effort to eradicate the last 1% of polio, which would cause unmeasurable benefits in health expenses and human outcomes over the next one million of generations.
    Come on guys. We can be the century that eradicated AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, basically making it so that the diseases that killed like 50%+ of our ancestors are just off the surface of the planet forever. Can't we just give the WHO and UN a bigger budget and capacity to legislate?

  13. 4:07 Why is there an annotation over top of measles as if it's correcting the spelling when measles is spelled the exact same way in the actual video…?

  14. Anti Vaxxer:Hmmmmm,have my kid get autism and less chance of getting a job or death….. DEATH! DEATH!I don't want my child to get autism.

  15. this is fun and all, but when can we eradicate trolling and sh1tposting. Its currently the two major epidemics in the internet

  16. If nothing else, humanity is really fucking good at killing things.
    And with things like Smallpox, this can be a good trait! Just wish it was used in this way more often for our benefit then well… you know…

  17. I hope measles gets eradicated I've had it when i tripped to Africa it's not pleasant but my immune system remembers the virus and now I can't get it

  18. i was suffering from small pox 4 years ago , so the desease is not eliminated completely. and still i see people suffers now too.

    i had scars too but they are gone now
    i have photos πŸ™ of that time
    if someone want proof of small pox

  19. They used annotations to overwrite the word Measles due to what they believed to be a misspelling, however it was correctly spelled in the video.

  20. Sad that it takes such terrible diseases to make us come together as the human race. Nut Pandora' s Box, the only thing we can find with the malevolence unleashed from it is Hope.

  21. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from this with other crises, like eliminating abortion by helping families who are at risk of committing abortion

  22. AHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA THANK YOU ANTIVAXXERS NOW WHEN I GROW UP I MIGHT DIE FROM MEASLES HEHEHEHEHHEHEHEHHHEHHEHEHEHHEHEHHHAHAHAHHAAHAHHAHAHA

  23. πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜”πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜

  24. Anti-vaxxers are super villains plotting to infect the world without even knowing that they are. Help spread information, not viruses!

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