Smallpox A highly contagious disease unknown in the New World prior to the arrival of Columbus, smallpox scarred and killed vast numbers of people during the colonial period. Anchorage municipality Map It spread only through direct human contact with infected bodily fluids or infected objects, such as bedding or clothing. With no effective treatment available, the only effective prevention practiced in this era was isolation from infected persons and inoculation with a small amount of the smallpox virus.
Smallpox, derived from the Latin word for spotted, refers to the raised bumps that appear after a person has been infected with the variola virus. Variola major is the most common form of the disease, with an overall fatality rate historically of about 30 percent. It is this form that struck most New World victims. The disease in its early stages presented symptoms similar to those of influenza, specifically an intense headache and backache, fever, vomiting, and general malaise. Some people also experienced anxiety, but patients with this symptom, typically Native Countrys, often succumbed before the appearance of the distinctive rash associated with the disease.
By the fourth day of disease, the first smallpox sores appeared in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages. At this point, the patient became contagious. Over a twenty-four-hour period, the rash gradually extended to the skin surface, covering the victim in raised pustules that concentrated on the soles of feet, palms of the hands, face, forearms, neck, and back. On some victims, the rash caused subcutaneous hemorrhaging from the gums, eyes, nose, and other orifices. As the rash progressed in the mouth and throat, drinking became difficult and dehydration followed. After two weeks, scabs formed and encrusted most of the body, making any movement painful.