Smallpox—it is an ancient, terrifying, and deadly disease which has afflicted humanity for at least 2000 years. In its extreme form, the virus destroyed the oil glands of the skin, causing a rash which later formed pustules and scabs. Internal bleeding and damage to the heart, liver, and lungs followed, leading to death. The mortality rate was high, and survivors could be blinded or scarred for life.
But today, smallpox is the only naturally occurring disease which is considered to be eradicated. In 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) began an ambitious and costly campaign to end the threat of smallpox through systematic vaccination. The last endemic smallpox infection was recorded in 1977 and the last known case of death in 1978. The WHO declared the disease completely eradicated two years later. Discussion over the elimination of the last remaining stocks of smallpox virus—held at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Russia—is now in progress. Those stocks are slated for destruction in 2002.