THE killer disease claimed millions of lives before it was finally wiped out.
Here’s what we know on the last smallpox outbreak and its unlucky victim, Janet Parker.
When was the last known case of smallpox?
The last person to die from smallpox was a woman named Janet Parker.
The 40-year-old medical photographer from Birmingham died on September 11, 1978 – exactly one month after she started feeling unwell.
Within days, she developed unsightly red spots on her back, limbs and face, but when a doctor was called she was told she had chickenpox.
However, she had already had the chickenpox virus as a child, and her mother knew the large blistering pustules now appearing on her body were considerably different.
As her condition deteriorated, Janet was admitted to the Catherine-de-Barnes Isolation Hospital in Solihull.
Janet was believed to have become infected from working at a smallpox laboratory at Birmingham Medical School.
The origin of the infection was never proved, but Professor Henry Bedson, who headed the lab, believed it was his fault and took his own life.
While Janet was still in hospital he committed suicide, leaving this note: “I am sorry to have misplaced the trust which so many of my friends and colleagues have placed in me and my work.”
More than 500 people were vaccinated after Jane’s infection but no one else was known to have died from the disease.
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Had it been eradicated before that?
The ancient disease existed for thousands of years and killed a third of those it infected.
In the 20th century alone around 300million people died from the disease.
But a global vaccination programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) was carried out to wipe out the disease, and by the 1970s cases were rare.
The last case in the UK was seen five years before Janet Parker was infected.
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