Smallpox Vaccination

The History of Variolation

The exact origins of variolation (also known as “inoculation”) are not well known. However, it is agreed that the practice started somewhere in Asia, in either China or India. (It is possible that it started in both places at around the same time.) In China, scabs from smallpox pustules would be dried in the sun and then inhaled by people seeking to be inoculated. The drying of the scabs would weaken the virus — or make less of it viable — and the inoculated person would (hopefully) not develop the full-blown symptoms of smallpox. In India, the method was similar to what would migrate west to the Middle East, North Africa and eventually Europe. That method involved lancing the pustule of someone recovering from smallpox and then using that same lance to transfer some of the pustule material (pus) into the arm of a healthy person.

Book Review: “Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Crushes Smallpox” by Drew Conrad

The book by Mr. Conrad synthesizes the whole story of how Lady Mary influenced the advancement of medical science into a short story that is worth reading. Children will appreciate the brevity of the story while their parents will appreciate the historical and scientific lesson being taught to their children. The language is not complicated; Mr. Conrad does not get into the weeds of immunology or virology, nor does he get too complicated into the politics of the time and how few would be willing to follow the medical practices of “barbarians” in Asia Minor. This is okay as those topics are better explored in high school or early college.