Blupete's History Page


GLOSSARY:
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BLUEPETE'S HISTORY OF NOVA SCOTIA: 1600-1763.

"Smallpox"

Sometimes called the variola, smallpox was a scourge to mankind and killed millions in the days before a vaccine was discovered and used. In addition to being deadly it was an ugly disease. Its most distinctive feature, according to the OEDII, in its acute contagious stage, is that the disease declares its presence by displaying the pox or pustules on the skin of the infected person: for all to see: for all to avoid. From a 1788 Medical book we learn that "The small-pocks are often confluent upon the face and head, whilst they are distinct every where else."

In the period I am considering, 1600-1763, smallpox often ran rampant through close populations. Treatment for smallpox consisted of "bleedings, washings, treatments with carminative to relieve excess gas, the ingestion of restorative-stimulative agents, drugs to induce sweating and vesicatory plasters [to create blisters on the skin]."

Smallpox was present at Louisbourg during the British occupation period, 1745 to 1748. During the 1758 invasion, it is written, many of the British troops were inoculated at Halifax before they pushed on for Louisbourg. [NSHR, vol. 10 (1990), No. 2, pp. 31, 37-39.]

It is the English doctor, Edward Jenner (1749-1823) who has been given the credit for sounding the end of small pox. However, in Great Britain, inoculation was accepted much earlier than when Jenner ran his experiments, as early as 1717.

Jenner, after many investigations, came to believe that people who had cowpox (a much less virulent disease) did not thereafter catch smallpox (a killer). Jenner determined that there would be a prophylactic value, if, people were purposely made to catch cowpox. Jenner caused his crowning experiment to take place on May 14th, 1796, I believe London. (Chambers.) The idea that one should go about making healthy people sick, in order so that they might avoid being sick in the future, was an idea that was slow to gain acceptance. There was much controversy over Jenner's idea: but, by 1802, Jenner was famous and applauded on all fronts.

The world's last reported case of endemic smallpox occurred in Somalia, in 1977.

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Peter Landry
2011