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Back in the Day: Man kills disease

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Back in the Day: Man kills disease


December 9, 1979 The World Health Organisation (WHO) certifies the eradication of smallpox, making it the first disease Man had successfully managed to control completely.

Smallpox was a highly infectious and dangerous virus that appeared among human populations in ancient times. It could be transmitted by touch or breathing and its visible symptoms included a severe rash of blisters. Overall, smallpox killed around 30 percent of the humans it infected; in the 20th century alone it claimed hundreds of millions of lives. In 1796, British doctor Edward Jenner found that inoculating people with the much milder cowpox could make them immune to smallpox. taking the Latin word for ‘cow’ (vacca), he called the inoculation method a ‘vaccine’.

Since Jenner’s discovery, vaccines for smallpox (as well as other diseases) improved but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that global vaccination programs began to bear fruit. The last human case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia in 1977. Two years later the world was able to celebrate its disappearance.

Also on December 9: Church and state are separated by law in France (1905); Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann is found guilty of crimes against humanity by an Israeli court (1961); start of the first Intifada in the Palestinian territories (1987).

Born on December 9: John Milton (1608), Judi Dench (1934), John Malkovich (1953), Felicity Huffman (1962).

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