The Pox

Sloughing lip following smallpox 1846?

Smallpox was an horrendous disease but was a frequent visitor and killer in the Victorian Era.

There are two forms of smallpox, Variola major is the most serious. The illness can be life threatening in people who have not been vaccinated, and Variola minor which is a milder infection that rarely causes death. Horrific scarring can be the result if you manage to survive it.

The symptoms may include: Backache, Delirium, Diarrhea, Excessive bleeding, Fatigue, High fever, Malaise, Raised pink rash — turns into sores that become crusty on day 8 or 9, Severe headache and Vomiting. These will manifest themselves within two weeks of the initial infection.

Now if you manage to overcome all of these there is a chance of complications: Arthritis and bone infections, Brain swelling (encephalitis), Eye infections, Pneumonia, Scarring, Severe bleeding, Skin infections (from the sores) and of course the ultimate complication death!

All in all it best avoided i’d say! If we look at Dickens great novel Bleak House we see Esther Summerson, our heroine of the story contract small pox (although the disease is not named).

It all begins when John Jarndyce and Esther discover that Jo, the young crossing sweeper, is ill and insist on taking him back to the house to care for him. He mysteriously goes missing overnight and by morning, Esther has contracted smallpox.

She nearly dies and is left with horrendous scarring which scares away her unwanted suitor Mr Guppy…probably a bonus in this case.

In 1853 laws were put ion the statute books making the vaccination of children compulsory but oddly this aroused considerable opposition and the poor quite simply ignored it.

Some fifty years later opposition was still bring expressed:

Compulsory medicine… is opposed to the ancient constitution of England, and is, therefore, a gross infraction of the liberty of the Citizen and of parental rights. The work of our Congress is to assist in restoring the birthright of our citizens, to give back to parents their highest duty and privilege—the sacred right to protect and defend their offspring from evil , and to liberate the oppressed of many nations from an ignorant, unjust, and indefensible tyranny. Anti-vaccinationist campaigner Dr Walter Hadwen 25 January 1896:

The global eradication of smallpox was certified, based on intense verification activities in countries, by a commission of eminent scientists on 9 December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly on 8 May 1980.WHO Factsheet. Retrieved 2007-09-22

So it took nearly 140 years to eradicate smallpox from the world after the initial mandatory vaccinations of our Victorian forebears.