Smallpox - Topic Overview
How is smallpox spread?
Smallpox is contagious. It
can be passed from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, or
breathing, or by contact with the scabs or the fluid from blisters. It can even
spread from an infected person's personal items and bedding. Smallpox is
easiest to spread during the first week of the rash. As scabs form, the person
is less contagious. But a person can spread the virus from the time the rash
first appears until all scabs have fallen off.
If a terrorist were
to release a small amount of the virus into the air, it is possible that it
could spread among a large number of people. The virus may be able to survive and infect
people for up to a day.
People who get this disease must
stay away from others to help prevent it from spreading. If there has been a
smallpox outbreak and you think you might have been exposed, call your doctor or local
health department. Do not go
directly to a health facility, because you could pass the disease to other
How is smallpox diagnosed?
If a doctor suspected a case of smallpox, blood and skin tests would be needed to confirm the diagnosis. A confirmed case of smallpox
would be considered a worldwide health emergency. In the U.S., state and
federal health officials would quickly take action. They would keep anyone who
might have been exposed away from others.
If a smallpox outbreak
had been confirmed, a doctor in the outbreak area could diagnose smallpox
without a lab test. The doctor would look at the rash and ask about symptoms
and possible exposure to the disease.
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for
smallpox. Treatment includes drinking plenty of fluids and taking medicines to
control pain and fever.
To prevent the spread of the virus, an
infected person must be kept away from other people until he or she is no
Can smallpox infection be prevented?
have survived smallpox cannot get it again.