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History of Smallpox and Its Spread in Human Populations

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  • Authors: Catherine Thèves1, Eric Crubézy2, Philippe Biagini3
  • Editors: Michel Drancourt4, Didier Raoult5
  • VIEW AFFILIATIONS HIDE AFFILIATIONS
    Affiliations: 1: AMIS Laboratory, UMR 5288, CNRS / University of Toulouse / University of Strasbourg, Toulouse, France; 2: AMIS Laboratory, UMR 5288, CNRS / University of Toulouse / University of Strasbourg, Toulouse, France; 3: Viral Emergence and Co-Evolution Unit, UMR 7268 ADES, Aix-Marseille University / French Blood Agency / CNRS, Marseille, France; 4: Aix Marseille Université Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France; 5: Aix Marseille Université Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France
  • Source: microbiolspec July 2016 vol. 4 no. 4 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0004-2014
  • Received 15 March 2015 Accepted 20 April 2015 Published 01 July 2016
  • Catherine Thèves, catherine.theves@univ-tlse3.fr
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  • Abstract:

    Smallpox is considered among the most devastating of human diseases. Its spread in populations, initiated for thousands of years following a probable transmission from an animal host, was concomitant with movements of people across regions and continents, trade and wars. Literature permitted to retrace the occurrence of epidemics from ancient times to recent human history, smallpox having affected all levels of past society including famous monarchs. The disease was officially declared eradicated in 1979 following intensive vaccination campaigns.

    Paleomicrobiology dedicated to variola virus is restricted to few studies, most unsuccessful, involving ancient material. Only one recent approach allowed the identification of viral DNA fragments from lung tissue of a 300-year-old body excavated from permafrost in Eastern Siberia; phylogenetic analysis revealed that this ancient strain was distinct from those described during the 20th century.

  • Citation: Thèves C, Crubézy E, Biagini P. 2016. History of Smallpox and Its Spread in Human Populations. Microbiol Spectrum 4(4):PoH-0004-2014. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0004-2014.

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2016-07-01
2017-06-23

Abstract:

Smallpox is considered among the most devastating of human diseases. Its spread in populations, initiated for thousands of years following a probable transmission from an animal host, was concomitant with movements of people across regions and continents, trade and wars. Literature permitted to retrace the occurrence of epidemics from ancient times to recent human history, smallpox having affected all levels of past society including famous monarchs. The disease was officially declared eradicated in 1979 following intensive vaccination campaigns.

Paleomicrobiology dedicated to variola virus is restricted to few studies, most unsuccessful, involving ancient material. Only one recent approach allowed the identification of viral DNA fragments from lung tissue of a 300-year-old body excavated from permafrost in Eastern Siberia; phylogenetic analysis revealed that this ancient strain was distinct from those described during the 20th century.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1

(Left) A young mummified woman from the Arbre Chamanique multiple burial; lung tissues were studied by microscopy and DNA analysis. (Courtesy of Patrice Gérard, CNRS.) (Top right) The lung tissue structure was identified. It exhibited numerous scattered, black-pigmented deposits, potentially the pigment of black lung disease (coal worker’s pneumoconiosis). Hematoxylin and eosin coloration, ×50. Courtesy of Catherine Cannet, IML, Strasbourg.) (Bottom right) A significant amount of iron was found in the lung parenchyma and may correspond to important bleeding. Perls coloration, × 100. Courtesy of Catherine Cannet, IML, Strasbourg.)

Source: microbiolspec July 2016 vol. 4 no. 4 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0004-2014
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Image of FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2

Phylogenetic analysis of concatenated sequences of an ancient Siberian smallpox virus (PoxSib) and representative strains identified in humans and animals. Phylogeny suggests that the 300-year-old viral sequence did not belong to the cluster of strains sequenced from the 20th century (1947 to 1975). Strains identified in humans: Guin69, Guinea 1969; SierL69, Sierra Leone 1969; BenDH68, Benin 1968; BrazGar66 and Braz66, Brazil 1966; Syr72, Syria 1972; Pak69, Pakistan 1969; Ind64, India 1964; Sarf65, South Africa 1965; Bots72, Botswana 1972; Ethio72, Ethiopia 1972; Bangla75, Bangladesh 1975; Sum70, Sumatra 1970; ChinHorn48, China 1948; Kor47, Korea 1947; Jap51, Japan 1951; Tanz65, Tanzania 1965; Cng70, Congo 1970. Strains identified in animals: CMLV M96, camelpox virus M96; CPXV FIN, cowpox Finland 2000; CPXV GER, cowpox GER91-3; CPXV GRI, cowpox GRI-90; HPXV, horsepox virus 76; MPXV Z96, monkeypox Zaire-96; VACV, vaccinia virus Copenhagen-derived clone 1990. (Derived from Fig. 1B in reference 37 . Reproduced with permission.)

Source: microbiolspec July 2016 vol. 4 no. 4 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0004-2014
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Image of FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3

Phylogenetic tree built with central conserved regions of diverse orthopoxvirus genomes (maximum credibility tree, Bayesian method) ( 53 ). Mutation accumulation rates are shown (substitutions/site/year). Numbers on nodes indicate the time to the most recent common ancestor of the clades (in years). Gray bars: 95% highest probability density intervals; the posterior probabilities of all clades are >90% except the node marked with an asterisk. Strains: VARV, variola virus; TATV, taterapox virus; CMLV, camelpox virus; CPXV, cowpox virus; HPXV, horsepox virus; MPXV, monkeypox virus; MA VARV, variola minor alastrim strains; WA VARV, West African variola virus strains; WA MPXV, West African monkeypox virus strains. (Legend derived from Fig. 2 in reference 53 ; figure reproduced from Fig. 2 in reference 53 with permission.)

Source: microbiolspec July 2016 vol. 4 no. 4 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0004-2014
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