Blowing stuff up noses and putting infected scabs all over yourself is just some of the ways humans have fought against diseases. This is no more evident than the human relationship with smallpox. The history of smallpox is said to date back thousands of years, with some saying at least 10’000 years.
The origin of smallpox as a natural disease is lost in prehistory. It is believed to have appeared around 10,000 bc, at the time of the first agricultural settlements in northeastern Africa. It seems plausible that it spread from there to India by means of ancient Egyptian merchants. The earliest evidence of skin lesions resembling those of smallpox is found on faces of mummies from the time of the 18th and 20th Egyptian Dynasties (1570–1085 bc). The mummified head of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses V (died 1156 bc) bears evidence of the disease. At the same time, smallpox has been reported in ancient Asian cultures: smallpox was described as early as 1122 bc in China and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts of India.Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination (2005)
To think that smallpox has such an extensive history, yet it is hardly unheard of these days is quite the achievement for the development of medicine.
Smallpox is eradicated, the vaccine is still available, yet not routinely given out to people. The vaccine is kept to protect against biological warfare as smallpox is considered a deadly agent, which has the quite the sketcty history in regards of war.
In the world we live in now, the current paradigm, the process of increasing immunity against an illness would be called vaccination, yet historically the wording has changed, being known as inoculation, or variolation in regards of smallpox (there’s a good chance that those of the mature nature will be more used to the term of “inoculation”) .
“However, the most successful way of combating smallpox before the discovery of vaccination was inoculation. The word is derived from the Latin inoculare, meaning “to graft.” Inoculation referred to the subcutaneous instillation of smallpox virus into nonimmune individuals. The inoculator usually used a lancet wet with fresh matter taken from a ripe pustule of some person who suffered from smallpox. The material was then subcutaneously introduced on the arms or legs of the nonimmune person. The terms inoculation and variolation were often used interchangeably.”Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination (2005)
To make everything even more confusing, the “science” of vacinology wasn’t actually a thing until Edward Jenner created the concept in late 18th century England. Mr Jenner effectively labelled, “rebranded”, a practice which had been used for hundreds if not thousands of years.
In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occursFrancis Galton
Mr Jenner, through his observations of maids discovered that if you’ve already had cowpox, a less aggressive family member of smallpox, you wouldn’t succumb to smallpox, therefore making you immune. He trialled this by rubbing puss from infected wounds on the skin of healthy participants.
Several accounts from the 1500s describe smallpox inoculation as practiced in China and India (one is referred to in volume 6 of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China). Glynn and Glynn, in The Life and Death of Smallpox, note that in the late 1600s Emperor K’ang Hsi, who had survived smallpox as a child, had his children inoculated. That method involved grinding up smallpox scabs and blowing the matter into nostril. Inoculation may also have been practiced by scratching matter from a smallpox sore into the skin. It is difficult to pinpoint when the practice began, as some sources claim dates as early as 200 BCE.
“Inoculation in the East was historically performed by blowing smallpox crusts into the nostril. In Britain, Europe and the American Colonies the preferred method was rubbing material from a smallpox pustule from a selected mild case (Variola minor) into a scratch between the thumb and forefinger.”History of Medicine – Smallpox: A Great And Scourge
On a serious note, isn’t it interesting that the process of fighting diseases didn’t really start with injecting people… Very curious.
Please help sustain the site, support its future growth and expansion by donating cryptocurrency! We thank you for any support!