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Researchers track and analyze smallpox epidemics for three centuries

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image: Burial due to the week ending September 26, 1665 during the Great Plague of London. Five deaths from “smallpox and smallpox” are listed.
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Credits: Courtesy of Public Domain Review https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/londons-dreadful-visitation-bills-of-mortality

Researchers at McMaster University have investigated and analyzed thousands of weekly records of the deaths of smallpox victims in London, England, for nearly 300 years.

The analysis provides new and rare insights into the ecology of infectious diseases and demonstrates that the time between epidemics, the magnitude of outbreaks, and even the season of epidemics have changed over the centuries. I will.

Smallpox is one of the most devastating viral diseases that have hit humanity to date, killing about 3 out of 10 infected people. Those who survived were often left disabled, blind, or injured. Until the 19th century, smallpox was thought to have killed more than any other single infection, even plague and cholera.

The World Health Organization recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox. This is the most successful campaign ever attempted. Smallpox is one of only two infectious diseases that have been wiped out by human efforts.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has sparked growing interest in infectious disease transmission studies and how public health interventions can change the course of the pandemic,” McMaster said. David Earn, author of the Faculty of Mathematics and Statistics, said. A person who specializes in modeling the transmission of infectious diseases.

“Our goal is to explain and publish a weekly timeline of smallpox mortality in London, revealing historical events that may have influenced smallpox dynamics over the centuries. It was to identify, “he says.

Outlined in the journal for analysis PLOS biologyEarn and his colleague Olga Krylova investigated and digitized more than 13,000 smallpox mortality records from 1664 to 1930 in the London Death Chart and the Registrar’s Weekly Report.

The data began before public health practices were implemented, with the introduction of smallpox prevention (a procedure for deliberately infecting healthy people with smallpox virus from pustules or dry pigeons of people suffering from the disease). And the discovery of the vaccine, and the decline in smallpox mortality until the last smallpox death was recorded in London.

Some scientists have recently suggested that COVID-19’s “smallpox prophylaxis” may have occurred as a beneficial side effect of mask use.

“During the period covered by the data, smallpox changed from a terrifying and unavoidable risk to an easily preventable infection. Better control measures, especially the introduction of vaccination, reduced smallpox mortality and ultimately It led to eradication, “says Ern.

During the 267 years under analysis, London underwent major demographic and social changes and had various historical events that could have had a significant impact on the dynamics of smallpox.

“It is clear that the introduction of smallpox control (variolation and subsequent vaccination) has enabled eradication. Our analysis shows that more use of control measures and changes in public health policy are epidemic. It also suggests that it was correlated with changes in smallpox, ”says co-author Olga Krylova, a former doctoral student in McMaster’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Other events that could affect the smallpox epidemic included war and the Industrial Revolution, accompanied by urbanization and demographic transition.

“Further research using mathematical models is needed to quantify the effects of interventions and historical events on the development of smallpox,” says Krylova.

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