Tucson doc: Vaccine alone conquered smallpox

Says many now have no 'sense of danger'
2012-09-30T00:00:00Z 2014-07-30T17:19:32Z Tucson doc: Vaccine alone conquered smallpoxStephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Though the last case of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949, a Tucson physician treated cases in other parts of the world before the disease was eradicated.

Dr. Vincent Fulginiti spent time in villages in India during the 1960s administering the smallpox vaccine as part of the World Health Organization's elimination effort.

"There was a heavy mortality among pregnant women, which is one of the reasons I went over there," said Fulginiti, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine.

The last known case in the world was in 1977, in Somalia. After that, routine vaccination of the general public against smallpox ended.

Fulginiti, who graduated from medical school in 1957, says many of the young pediatricians he's trained have never seen whooping cough, polio or measles.

It's a far cry from what he saw on his first assignment as a physician: a ward full of people with whooping cough, and in iron lungs because of polio.

Many young adults have no "sense of danger" about vaccine-preventable diseases, he said, and that is fueling a rise in parents who don't vaccinate their children.

It's an indication of just how far was have come from one of the greatest scientific achievements of humankind, he said.

Make no mistake - without the smallpox vaccine, the disease would still be rampant, he said, referring to critics who argue that smallpox would have been conquered without vaccines.

"Smallpox was eradicated systematically by a worldwide effort of vaccination, period," he said. "To think that it would have spontaneously disappeared is a lack of logical reasoning among some people who do not understand how to solve the causation of illness."

Among other things, Fulginiti stresses the destruction smallpox caused in the world and notes that Native Americans, who suffered a huge death toll, called it "rotting face." The raised bumps often covered the entire body, including the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.

Fulginiti gives presentations about smallpox and frequently cites Tucson author Jennifer Lee Carrell's book "The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox" as an accurate account of the disease, as well as a good read.

Could it happen again?

With the exception of laboratory stockpiles, the variola virus that causes smallpox has been eliminated.

But ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the U.S. government has had a heightened concern that that variola virus might be used as an agent of bioterrorism. For that reason, the U.S. is taking steps to deal with a smallpox outbreak, and there is enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate everyone who would need it in the event of an emergency.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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