Smallpox, now eradicated, was an ancient viral illness

Smallpox, now eradicated, was an ancient viral illness

Viruses can be nasty things. They’re often killers, as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. But modern vaccines have helped reduce death and human suffering for many diseases. Look at smallpox.

It killed an estimated 300 million people over the 20th century, many millions more through human history.

Thanks to scientists, a vaccine actually eradicated the disease. Smallpox no longer circulates, with the last case documented in 1977.

The coronavirus has been around for many years. It even predates the dinosaurs, according to some. The latest, particularly deadly strain mutated from more docile viral grandparents only recently.

Now Italian scientists have discovered that smallpox plagued mankind far longer than previously thought. This provides important insight into virus research generally.

Up to a few years ago, smallpox was thought to have emerged in the 1600s. A study in 2020 that harvested genetic material from Viking-era teeth and skeletal remains pushed its origin back 600 more years. But scientists were skeptical because some ancient Egyptian mummies display scarring typical of smallpox. That would push the emergence of the disease back to 3,000 years ago.

Italian scientists recently examined the virus’ genome itself. Using advanced genomic and mathematical techniques, they pushed the date of origin back to 3,800 years ago.

Viruses have caused human sorrow and suffering through the ages. Indeed, they predate our species. The coronavirus isn’t going away and may soon become endemic like the flu.

Doctors say a vaccination is still the best bet to lessen the odds of hospitalization and death.


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