“The most terrible of all the ministers of death. The havoc of the plague has been far more rapid: but plague has visited our shores only once or twice within living memory; and smallpox was always present, filling the churchyards with corpses, tormenting with constant fear all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives were spared the hideous traces of its power, turning the babe into a changeling at which the mother shuddered, making the eyes and cheeks of the betrothed maiden objects of horror to the lover.”
It is not my habit in my writings to indulge in alarming descriptions of disease with the purpose of inspiring fear. Although that would be easy to do, because disease is always sufficiently fearful. In the cases of disease which are preventable, however, warnings in such a form seem to me justifiable, and especially if the preventive measures are neglected from ignorance, misguided stubbornness or carelessness.
Such is certainly the case with smallpox. The description of Macaulay, given above, is no exaggeration of conditions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So universal was the disease that identification of criminals who were at large was made by saying they had no pock marks on the face. Such a thing set a man off from the common run. So constant was the fear of the disease, the advertisements in the Help Wanted columns of that time demanded that servants who applied for work in a household should have good crops of pock marks. It was recognized that one attack of the disease conferred immunity, and those who had pock marks were in no danger of bringing it into the house.
Now all that is changed. Why? Solely on account of vaccination. We have very little smallpox today, and nothing in respect to it has been changed since the eighteenth century except the practice of vaccination. Neither sanitation, nor quarantine, have any effect on it. We can see that from a similar disease, measlessimilar at least in that it is extremely contagious and is spread entirely by human con-tact. It still is common in spite of modern sanitation and quarantine.
How early should vaccination for smallpox be done? Osier’s “Text Book of Medicine,” the standard in the English language, says: “Vaccination is usually performed between the fourth and sixth month.” Remember the sentence of Macaulay that BABES were turned into changelings. Smallpox is no respecter of persons or ages. Of 3,164 deaths in the Montreal epidemic of 1885-6, 2,717 were of children under 10 years of age.
Revacinnation should be done at the age of 9 years. A person exposed to smallpox should always be revaccinated.
Wherever vaccination is neglected there exists a fertile field for smallpox. Somehow there are always a few sporadic cases of the disease around. In the army, whenever a new draft came in we invariably had a few cases in the hospital the next day. But they caused no alarm because universal vaccination was practiced.
If your child is going to enter school this year, be certain that vaccination has been done.