The disease:

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal disease. There is no specific treatment for smallpox, and the only prevention is vaccination. Smallpox outbreaks have occurred for thousands of years, but the disease is now eradicated after a successful worldwide vaccination program. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949.


Generally, direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact is required to spread smallpox from one person to another. It can also be spread through direct contact with infected body fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing. Rarely, smallpox has been spread by virus carried in the air in enclosed settings such as buildings, buses, and trains. Smallpox is not known to be transmitted by insects or animals

General information:

Someone infected with smallpox will become very sick before they are likely to become contagious and would therefore be unlikely to spread the disease to the general public. If someone is exposed to smallpox and receives the vaccine within four (4) days, their risk of developing the disease is greatly reduced.

Public Health Officials have been working together to prepare for quick and effective responses should a smallpox outbreak occur. If smallpox were diagnosed today, the same strategies used to control and eradicate this disease in the past would be used again.

  • Patients with smallpox would be isolated.
  • The smallpox vaccine would be given to those who had been, or could have been, exposed to the infected person.

This approach creates a "ring" of vaccinated people around the people who were infected with smallpox and the ring stops the spread of the diseases. This same strategy was used years ago to eliminate the diseases in the 1970s.

Even though currently there is no routine smallpox vaccination provided, the United States government has access to enough smallpox vaccine to effectively respond to a smallpox outbreak in the United States.

Protect yourself and family. Stay informed. Follow the instructions of public health authorities. If you think you have been exposed to smallpox, stay away from others and call your health care provider immediately.

For more information regarding Smallpox please visit the Centers for Disease Control Smallpox web page.