Tag Archives: smallpox

Book Review of Viruses, Plagues, and History by M. B. A. Oldstone

Arpan K. Banerjee Solihull, United Kingdom   Cover The first edition of Viruses, Plagues, and History was published to great acclaim twenty years ago and has now been updated to include the pandemics of the twenty-first century. These include the SARS, MERS, and Zika virus outbreaks, which have now been eclipsed by COVID-19. The early […]

Girolamo Cardano: Renaissance physician and polymath

Born at Pavia in the duchy of Lombardy in 1501, Girolamo Cardano practiced medicine for fifty years but is remembered chiefly as a polymath. He composed 200 works, made important contributions to mathematics and algebra, invented several mechanical devices (some still in use today), and published extensive philosophical tracts and commentaries on the ancient philosophers […]

The global journey of variolation

Mariel Tishma Chicago, Illinois, United States   A human hand with smallpox pustules. Colored etching by W.T. Strutt. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Humanity has eliminated only one infectious disease—smallpox. Smallpox is a very old disease and efforts to prevent it are almost as old. They included a technique called variolation, also […]

COVID-19 and the Black Death

Colleen Donnelly  Denver, Colorado, United States   A street during the plague in London with a death cart and mourners. Colour wood engraving by E. Evans. Wellcome Library no. 6918i. Source During the fourteenth century waves of the bubonic plague washed across Europe. Doomsday books of the age described an apocalypse that wiped out one-quarter […]

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and smallpox

JMS Pearce Hull, England   Fig 1. A painting of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jonathan Richardson the Younger. Via Wikimedia. There are few examples of people with no medical training who independently make significant advances in medical practice. One such person was the elegant, aristocratic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)—daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke […]

Plague epidemics and the evolution of language in England

Andrew P. K. Wodrich Washington, DC, United States   Pierart dou Tielt’s illustration depicts the mortal toll of the Black Death in a Belgian town circa 1353. Similarly, the plague decimated the population of England, spurring the change from French to English as the country’s dominant spoken language. Via Wikimedia Commons here.  Epidemics have had a profound impact […]

Strange complications of vaccination

In this caricature James Gillray makes fun of the supposed complications of using the cowpox vaccine to prevent patients from getting the smallpox. Several people are shown having cows emerge from their hands, mouths, or buttocks, or develop horns that sprout from their heads. This is obviously not a very safe vaccine! The Cow-Pock – […]

How a small town kept smallpox small

Annabelle Slingerland Leiden, the Netherlands   Fig. 1 Presentation of smallpox. To make a mountain out of a molehill is a vice, but to keep the mole underground is a virtue. The little town of Tilburg in the south of the Netherlands was not accustomed to seeing mountains, but when a molehill first came into […]

Vaccinating a young child

The entire household has assembled to watch a child being vaccinated against smallpox. Inoculation with material derived from cowpox lesions was still sufficiently novel to excite such interest. It had been first attempted in 1796 by Edward Jenner, who used the term vaccination because the Latin for cow is vacca and cowpox was called vaccinia. […]

Plagues and prejudice

Anne Jacobson Oak Park, Illinois, United States   Figure 1. Honolulu Chinatown fire of 1900. Hawaii State Archives.  It was a calm, clear January morning on the gritty streets of paradise. Honolulu, the capital of the newly-annexed U.S. territory of Hawaii, was ushering out a century of upheaval that had included the arrival of explorers, […]