Smallpox’s First Known Death in 1157 B.C. Led a Deadly Parade

<i> from Associated Press</i>

Smallpox, the only disease ever eradicated, killed millions of people over thousands of years.

Pharaoh Ramses V is the first known death, in 1157 B.C. Invading armies then spread smallpox through Africa and Europe. The Spanish brought it to Mexico, where it killed half the Aztec Indian population in the 16th Century.

During the next 200 years, smallpox killed up to one-third of the European and U.S. populations annually.


The ancient Chinese initiated early attempts at immunization, inhaling powder made from the scabs of smallpox lesions. Following that theory, Dr. Edward Jenner in the 1790s discovered a virus related to smallpox and created a vaccine.

Only humans get smallpox. It disappeared after a global vaccination campaign in the 1960s. The last natural case was in Somalia in 1977.

But the last death was the following year. A photographer who was in a British lab on business unrelated to the disease died in a still unsolved lab accident. The lab’s owner killed himself.

Because of the accident, scientists created two smallpox repositories: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Moscow’s Institute for Viral Preparations.