Smallpox is a viral infection that only infects humans. It is caused by a virus called variola. Today, people can no longer become naturally infected with the virus. The last known natural infection of smallpox occurred in 1977.
The only way a person can now become infected with smallpox is through a criminal act. Someone would need to expose the virus to the public intentionally before infection could occur. The chances of naturally contracting the virus are nil. The chances of becoming exposed through some form of criminal act are also minute.
There are two locations in the world where the virus is still contained for research, the Koltsovo in the Russian Federation and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Atlanta in the USA. The virus is confined in sealed laboratories using very tight security.
Although it would naturally never happen, if a person were to come into contact with the virus, very recognizable symptoms would appear within a week to 17 days. The first symptoms would include headaches, a very high fever and extreme fatigue. Within two or three days, a rash would begin to appear over the arms, legs and face. The rash would evolve into pus filled lesions, which would scab over and fall off within three or four weeks.
The first symptoms of smallpox are extremely severe. The rash is a very common sign and appears on parts of the body that are exposed. Smallpox lesions run very deeply into the skin and feel hard when touched. They are also very difficult to break open.
Smallpox is a very infectious disease. It is passed from person to person through the air. The most common form of infection is through the saliva of another infected person. The infectious period can last from a month to six weeks.
Smallpox can also be spread through the bedclothes of an infected person. Both clothing and bed linen must be bleached to remove the infection. Contaminated surfaces in the vicinity of the infected person also need to be cleaned.
Smallpox cannot be contracted by traveling to foreign countries or brought into a country by visitors. The smallpox virus has now been completely eradicated. Unless someone was to let the virus escape, which is unlikely, there is no chance of contracting the infection.