Origin of Smallpox
The origin of smallpox is unknown. Smallpox is thought to date back to the Egyptian Empire around the 3rd century BCE (Before Common Era), based on a smallpox-like rash found on three mummies. The earliest written description of a disease that clearly resembles smallpox appeared in China in the 4th century CE (Common Era). Early written descriptions also appeared in India in the 7th century and in Asia Minor in the 10th century.
In late 1975, Rahima Banu, a three-year-old girl from Bangladesh, was the last person in the world to have naturally acquired variola major and the last person in Asia to have active smallpox.
Ali Maow Maalin was the last person to have naturally acquired smallpox caused by variola minor. Maalin was a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia. On October 12, 1977, he accompanied two smallpox patients in a vehicle from the hospital to the local smallpox office.
Janet Parker was the last person to die of smallpox. It was 1978, and Parker was a medical photographer at the Birmingham University Medical School in England and worked one floor above the Medical Microbiology Department where smallpox research was being conducted. She became ill on August 11 and developed a rash on August 15 but was not diagnosed with smallpox until 9 days later. She died on September 11, 1978. Her mother, who was providing care for her, developed smallpox on September 7, despite having been vaccinated on August 24.
Following the eradication of smallpox, scientists and public health officials determined there was still a need to perform research using the variola virus. They agreed to reduce the number of laboratories holding stocks of variola virus to only four locations. In 1981, the four countries that either served as a WHO collaborating center or were actively working with variola virus were the United States, England, Russia, and South Africa. By 1984, England and South Africa had either destroyed their stocks or transferred them to other approved labs. There are now only two locations where variola virus is officially stored and handled under WHO supervision: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Koltsovo, Russia.