Tuberculosis, polio, the bubonic plague, and smallpox are all diseases of the past that are long gone... right? Turns out, that may not be true. Smallpox may still exist, frozen in the tundras of Siberia. It's unclear how long smallpox can survive after someone dies, but traces of the virus have been found in well-preserved mummies and frozen bodies.
What is smallpox? The disease once ravaged the globe, particularly in the late 20th century, but it's been around for potentially thousands of years. It killed hundreds of millions before a vaccine was developed in 1796, but the disease continued to spread for decades. In 1980, the World Health Organization finally declared smallpox eradicated, but scientists now think there may be reason for concern. In 2016, old anthrax spores were revived in Siberia and spread rapidly after old graves melted from the permafrost, killing thousands of reindeer and even one child. Who's to say the same thing won't happen with smallpox?
Smallpox symptoms can be hard to diagnose, considering that it can initially look like chicken pox or other rashes. The small bumps cover the body, but eerily, also in the preserved corpses, scabs and bumps for hundreds of years. The effects of smallpox have even been found in a mummy from 3,000 years ago. It's those scabs that contain smallpox DNA. This debilitating disease kills a third of those it infects, so let's hope that smallpox doesn't make a comeback.
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