Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

The Ghost of Smallpox Past

Despite its being dead for 25 Years, the specter of a smallpox pestilence -- via terrorism -- haunts the public.
WebMD Feature

Smallpox is one of this year's top 10 medical stories. Not bad for a disease that's been dead for a quarter of a century.

Ironically, it was only last October that the CDC celebrated the 25th anniversary of the last case of smallpox in the world. Smallpox is eradicated. It stands as one of mankind's greatest achievements.

Recommended Related to Women

Live Well On Less

Just because the economy looks bleak doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself and your family. Here's how to spend less, but have more. You don't need us to tell you times are tight. Between the rising cost of gas and groceries, a disheartening recession, and the shaky job and housing markets, you've probably spent more than a few hours worrying about your finances. But tightening your belt doesn't mean choking your spirit; you can still enjoy the things you love. "You don't...

Read the Live Well On Less article > >

Now we fear that one of mankind's lowest acts -- terrorism -- might resurrect what 19th-century historian Thomas Macaulay called "the most terrible of the ministers of death." We worry that Soviet Cold War-era smallpox bioweapons might find their way into the hands of terrorists. We worry that rogue states might somehow develop and distribute smallpox weapons. We worry -- and now we prepare for the worst.

"The smallpox virus still exists in laboratories, and we believe that regimes hostile to the United States may possess this dangerous virus," President Bush said on Dec. 13. "Our government has no information that a smallpox attack is imminent. Yet it is prudent to prepare for the possibility that terrorists who kill indiscriminately would use diseases as a weapon."

To this end, the U.S. already has begun an ambitious smallpox vaccination program. About a half-million military personnel not deferred for medical reasons must get vaccinated. Another half-million healthcare workers will get voluntary vaccinations. After that, another 10 million healthcare workers will be offered the vaccine. The general public eventually will be able to choose vaccination. But unless there's an attack, no mass vaccination program is planned.

What is the Real Threat?

For every million people who get the vaccine, thousands will get bad reactions and one to five people will die. As Bugs Bunny used to ask in WWII-era cartoons, is this trip really necessary?

One person dealing with some of the issues involved is Kent A. Sepkowitz, MD, director of infection control at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and associate professor of medicine at Weill Medical College, Cornel University, New York.

"What is threat of smallpox? I have no idea," Sepkowitz tells WebMD. "That is the key piece. Nobody knows. That information is missing. We are asked to take on blind faith that there is a threat and to make a plan. It is our job to wrestle with the issues."

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror