Emergencies preparedness, response

Smallpox

WHO/C. Black

Smallpox is an acute contagious disease caused by the variola virus, a member of the orthopoxvirus family. It was one of the world's most devastating diseases known to humanity. The last known natural case was in Somalia in 1977. It was declared eradicated in 1980 following a global immunization campaign led by the World Health Organization.

Smallpox is transmitted from person to person via infective droplets during close contact with infected symptomatic people.

WHO

Smallpox is a devastating disease caused by the variola virus. In 1980, following an historic global campaign of surveillance and vaccination, the World Health Assembly declared smallpox eradicated – the only infectious disease to achieve this distinction.

WHO

The period since eradication has been defined by a lengthy and complex debate focussed on the destruction of the last remaining stocks of live variola virus. In 1996, at the 49th WHA, Member States decided to have this stock destroyed in June 1999, only to allow for temporary retention for further research in subsequent years.

WHO

The World Health Assembly has passed resolutions (WHA52.10) (WHA 55.15) authorizing temporary retention of the existing stocks of variola virus for the purpose of further essential research. The research is overseen by the Advisory Committee for Variola Virus Research that meets on an annual basis.

WHO

After human-to-human transmission of smallpox had been interrupted the likelihood of reintroduction or re-emergence of smallpox was negligible. Nevertheless an Emergency Smallpox Vaccine Stockpile was created to ensure that smallpox vaccine is immediately available should there be a need.

WHO

WHO assists countries in diagnosing suspected smallpox cases by directing them to the most appropriate and convenient laboratory for the analysis of samples, using the network of WHO Collaborating Centres as well as other laboratories that form part of the Emerging and Dangerous Pathogens Laboratory Network (EDPLN).

WHO

Preparedness to deal with any kind of smallpox event requires global and national attention. Additional steps for enhancing WHO Member State preparedness includes the strengthening of laboratory capacities for diagnostics for the detection of variola virus; expansion of expertise in the area of laboratory biosafety and biosecurity; and strengthening of national-level biosafety regulations in all countries.

WHO

The WHO Smallpox Secretariat, based in WHO’s Headquarters, manages the Smallpox Vaccine Emergency Stockpile, coordinates the research activities and the biosafety and biosecurity inspections of the repositories and reports to WHO’s Governing Bodies.


Technical information

Post-eradication of smallpox

The period since eradication has been defined by a lengthy and complex debate focussed on the destruction of the last remaining stocks of live variola virus.

Publications

A one-stop-shop for all the meeting reports, publications, WHA resolutions and other information resources on smallpox.

Variola Virus Repository Inspections

Biennial inspections of the WHO-sanctioned repositories of live variola virus are conducted to ensure that conditions of storage of the virus and of research conducted in the laboratories meet the highest requirements for biosafety and biosecurity.

Preparedness and response

Preparedness to deal with any kind of smallpox event requires global and national attention.

Research

WHO authorized research using live variola virus on antiviral agents and improved vaccines, as well as high priority investigations of the genetic structure and pathogenesis of smallpox.

Synthetic Biology Technologies

Assessment of the potential impact of synthetic biology technologies on smallpox preparedness and countermeasure development.

General information

Highlights

Contact information

Department of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27
Switzerland