U.S. #2087 – Smallpox claimed an estimated 500-500 million lives in the 20th century alone.

Smallpox is Declared Eradicated

On December 9, 1979 the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication completed their task, confirming the disease would no longer be spread naturally.

Historians believe smallpox first appeared around 10,000 B.C. For thousands of years it spread around the globe, killing an estimated 20 to 60 percent of those that were infected, and over 80 percent of infected children.

Item #UN294-95 – Small samples of smallpox have been kept in labs for research purposes, though there’s been a push to destroy them to avoid accidental infection.

The first major breakthrough came in 1796, when English doctor Edward Jenner created the world’s first vaccine. By injecting his patients with the similar cowpox virus, they became immune to the more severe smallpox. For his pioneering work, Jenner is considered “the father of immunology” and his work is often credited with saving “more lives than the work of any other human.”

Jenner’s vaccine was then distributed in a worldwide effort to fight smallpox. Several nations instituted mass vaccination programs, and some even made them mandatory. Through these efforts, smallpox was almost entirely eliminated in the United States by 1897. Northern Europe followed in 1900, and by 1914 the disease was gone from most industrialized nations.

Item #UNG74-75 – Smallpox was the first disease to ever be eradicated by the planning of public health professions.

While major progress had been made, there were still millions of people dying from smallpox around the world. In 1950, the Pan American Health Organization launched the first hemisphere-wide effort to end smallpox, succeeding in all but four American countries. Then, in 1958, Professor Viktor Zhdanov addressed the World Health Assembly (WHA), challenging them to launch a world-wide smallpox eradication program. The WHA passed the resolution the following year, but progress was slow, as some two million people were still dying from the disease every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) formed the Smallpox Eradication Unit in 1966 and dedicated $2.4 million annually toward the cause. This group also instituted a new surveillance method and ring vaccination, in which they monitored entire communities and vaccinated every one who came in contact with an infected individual.

Item #8A294 – The word “vaccination” comes from the Latin vacca, or “cow.”

These efforts produced great results. By 1975, smallpox was only found in one part of the world – the Horn of Africa. The Smallpox Eradication Unit intensified their efforts there in the final push against this disease. The last person to contract smallpox was Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Somalia. He caught the disease in October 1977 while helping to transport infected children. He was first misdiagnosed as having chickenpox and sent home. He suspected he had smallpox, but feared going into an isolation camp. A friend eventually reported his condition to local officials and he was taken for treatment and isolation. During the two weeks between his contraction and diagnosis, they estimated he’d come in contact with 91 people. The eradication team took extensive measures to vaccinate anyone going into or out of his town, and went door-to-door ensuring everyone was vaccinated. By the end of that year, they confirmed no one else had caught the virus.

Item #8A295P – One other disease has been eradicated since – rinderpest in 2011.

The WHO continued to monitor the situation for another two years. As no more cases were discovered, the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication announced on December 9, 1979, that “smallpox had been eradicated from the world.” The following May, the WHO endorsed their statement, issuing their own resolution declaring, “that the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox.”

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  1. The Mystic Stamp Day in History does an amazing job of presenting information to its recipients. Well researched and wide variety of subjects. It’s worth sharing with my children and grandchildren most days. Keep up the excellent work.

  2. Even though Jenner first used cowpox as an inoculation in 1797, attempts at inoculation were attempted much earlier using infected people on others. Abagail Adams, wife of John used this method. The British used the smallpox as a form of germ warfare in 1776. Human Hygiene was not the best during the Revolution so the British decided to send infected people into the rebel camps. Because the troops were gathered in such large masses, the disease spread fast. Washington even ordered his troops to be inoculated. Just a little more history from an SAR member.

  3. My 93 year old parents and I look forward to reading ” your stamp of the day”. We are learning so much since you started this. Keep up the good work and Thank you for bringing sunshine into their lives. It has made me so interested in my Dad’s Stamp collection.
    Once again “Athank you” for taking the time to research this info each day.
    Happy Holiddys,
    Cindy Todeschini

  4. Another interesting T D I H. If only the world’s governments could get together and actually get a cure for cancers! And the ‘common’ cold.

    1. Owen’s proposal would not work because !1) The solution is too simple and makes sense. (2) The ph And the list goes on.armaceutical companies would not stand for it, and (3) Unemployment would go through the roof!

  5. I agree with A.G., if only everyone in the world would work together to end not only diseases, but poverty, bias, bigotry, racism, hunger, illiteracy, and so many other scourges we are plagued with everyday, the planet would benefit so much and perhaps we could all live in peace. I know it’s a pipe dream, but can you “Imagine…”

  6. I know I’m repeating myself but I get as much out of the responsses as I do the History lessons. You folks at Mystic should be very proud of the dialogue you have created. Keep it up.

  7. There are still people who won’t vaccinate their children against known and entirely preventable diseases for some ridiculous reason. My niece is one on them.

  8. It is claimed in a book titled VIRUSES PLAGUES AND HISTORY by Oldstone Michael (2010 Oxford University Press) that American Presidents who contracted this disease and RECOVERED fully from it were George Washington (infected in 1751), Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln (infected in 1863 ). A belief in Small pox `demon` was prominent in Japan, Africa and Europe until 1930s. India`s first records of small pox are reportedly found in a Medical Book dating back to 400 AD, and Hindu goddess Shitaladevi was worshiped to prevent or cure small pox. Similarly in China too, small pox goddess is mentioned in ancient scriptures. Thank you MYSTIC for well written article on the eradication of small pox. The other disease “rinderpest” was eradicated in 2011.

  9. The eradication of smallpox is way more important than Peanuts. Next year scratch the silly comic strip and give credit where it is due for helping to eliminate this deadly disease.

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