After the thrill of eradicating smallpox, declared gone from the world in 1980 after a 14-year effort, global health planners dreamed big dreams about the other diseases they would vanquish. But in the years since, eradication efforts stalled. The campaign against Guinea worm has been going since 1980; polio, since 1988; river blindness, in the Americas, since 1992. Smallpox had been chosen not just because it was a killer, but because it possessed qualities that made eradication plausible. It affected only humans and couldn’t hide in animals or the environment. It produced visible signs of illness, quickly—epidemiologists could easily trace who had infected whom—and its symptoms were unique. And it could be prevented with just one dose of a vaccine. As it happens, measles fits those conditions too—more so than the other diseases that have been in public health’s sights since. It has no nonhuman host. It can be detected with a reliable diagnostic test. And it can be prevented with a single vaccine dose (though kids in the United States get two childhood doses, just to be sure). But the smallpox vaccine was delivered in a uniquely low-tech way, jabbed into the skin with a forked needle that held… Read full this story
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