1974 smallpox epidemic in India

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Man with smallpox (MAMAS CA44-271-4), National Museum of Health and Medicine (5477391432)
Smallpox eradication team
Ministry of Health India

1974 Smallpox Epidemic in India

The 1974 Smallpox Epidemic in India was one of the last major outbreaks of smallpox before its eradication in 1980. The epidemic had a significant impact on public health policy and the implementation of vaccination programs in India and worldwide.

Background[edit | edit source]

Smallpox is a contagious and deadly disease caused by the variola virus. Before its eradication, it was responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a global eradication program in 1967, which significantly reduced the incidence of the disease. However, in 1974, India faced a devastating outbreak that highlighted the challenges in eradicating smallpox.

The Epidemic[edit | edit source]

The 1974 epidemic primarily affected parts of Bihar, West Bengal, and other northern states of India. It was characterized by a high number of cases and fatalities, which were attributed to several factors, including population density, mobility, and inadequate healthcare infrastructure. The outbreak prompted a massive response from the Indian government and international organizations.

Response and Control Measures[edit | edit source]

In response to the outbreak, the Indian government, with support from the WHO and other international partners, launched an intensive vaccination campaign. This campaign focused on the isolation of cases, vaccination of contacts (ring vaccination), and surveillance to prevent the spread of the disease. These efforts were part of the broader Smallpox Eradication Programme (SEP), which aimed to vaccinate the entire population susceptible to smallpox.

Impact[edit | edit source]

The 1974 smallpox epidemic in India had a profound impact on public health policies and practices. It underscored the importance of surveillance, rapid response to outbreaks, and the need for a global commitment to vaccination programs. The lessons learned from the epidemic contributed to the strengthening of the global smallpox eradication effort, leading to the declaration of smallpox eradication by the WHO in 1980.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Following the epidemic, India intensified its efforts to improve healthcare infrastructure, surveillance, and public health response capabilities. The success of the smallpox eradication program also served as a model for other global health initiatives, including the ongoing efforts to eradicate polio and control other vaccine-preventable diseases.

See Also[edit | edit source]


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD