When the related episode of the series was shown in the US, officials were concerned that the storyline might worry viewers and they consequently issued a media advisory prior to the showing of the episode. While the programme in question does not conclude a final diagnosis of smallpox, it raises many questions related to public health.

What is the risk of Smallpox

In May 1980 the World Health organisation declared Smallpox as the first disease to achieve eradication. Since that time there have been no cases of smallpox, with the last reported outbreak occurring in Somalia in 1977. Smallpox is a disease that does not occur naturally in the environment. You cannot ‘catch’ smallpox when you visit a foreign country, nor can you get it from people who are visiting your own country. The only way smallpox can be transmitted today is through a deliberate criminal act.

What is Smallpox

Smallpox is a viral infection caused by the variola virus. Its symptoms include a fever, tiredness, aching limbs and general flu-like symptoms. This is followed by a distinctive rash on the arms, legs and face, about 2 days after symptoms start. The rash starts as red marks, which gradually fill with pus and then crust over, falling off after about 3-4 weeks.

Smallpox is particularly contagious during the first few weeks of illness and infection is spread through the air when a person coughs and sneezes. The disease remains contagious until the rash disappears.

What plans are in order in the event of exposure following a criminal act

In the UK, contingency plans are in place should such an event occur. Large stockpiles of vaccine exist and, if given within 4 days of exposure, these are able to lessen the symptoms or even prevent the disease.

If an outbreak should occur infected patients would need to be kept in isolation, and all close contacts would need to be vaccinated within 2-3 days following exposure.


Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional.  Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.