One Deadly Virus that Won’t Kill You

In the twentieth century, about 300 million people across the world died from one disease in particular. If you were lucky enough to survive, scars disfigured you or disabled you or both. Many of those scars were on the face. Which disease? It was the variola virus, more commonly called smallpox. It’s one deadly virus that won’t kill you or your loved ones or neighbors today.

Image of the quarantine sign the health department would place on houses of people with the one deadly disease that won't kill you today. It reads Smallpox, keep out of this house.

The Disease

No one knows where smallpox came from exactly. We can only speculate when it began and our guesses range from 12,000 years ago to 3,000 years ago.

The earliest evidence for the disease comes from the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V, who died in 1157 B.C. His mummified remains show telltale pockmarks on his skin. 

National Geographic

In other words, it had been around a long time. Spread from person-to-person, it killed 3 out of 10 people who caught it.

Graph showing 100,000s of deaths due to the smallpox virus from 1920 through the 1970s.

Early Symptoms

Symptoms appeared 2-14 days after exposure. High fever, head and body aches, and sometimes vomiting appeared first and lasted two to three days

The next four days, the fever continued, and small red spots appeared on the tongue and mouth. The spots turned into sores, broke open, and spread all over the mouth and throat. This stage was highly contagious. Over the next 24 hours, the rash appeared on face, and quickly spread until the rash covered the entire body. The fever often went down, and the patient felt better.

The Rash

Four days later, the skin rash turned into sores fill with a thick, cloudy fluid. The fever often came back and remained high.For the next five days, the sores become firm. Then crusts formed around them. By the end of the second week, all the sores had scabbed over and the fever subsided. Over the next six days, if the patient survived, the sores scabbed over. Patients remained contagious until all the scabs fall off, leaving pocked scars.

If you aren’t too squeamish, you can see pictures of the rash and a man with scars and blindness.

Deaths by Smallpox

Smallpox involved multiple organs and often overwhelmed the body, resulting in death. Two variants of the disease, flat and hemorrhagic Smallpox, the disease appeared earlier and progressed rapidly. Although rare, these variants were usually fatal

Fighting the Disease

According to the video above, treatment of smallpox began in 1022 A.D. when a Chinese nun tried variolation. It was the first attempt to stop the disease. It helped, but not enough.

In 1796, Edward Jenner diagnosed a dairymaid, Sarah Nelmes, with cowpox. And as you probably learned in school, he developed the first successful vaccination for smallpox. (See the illustration below or listen to the video for how.) But not enough people received the vaccine. And millions still died of the disease.

Line drawing showing Jenner's progression from Sarah Nelmes to inoculating James Phipps to collecting smallpox scabs and injecting them into Phipps then exposing him to smallpox, the one deadly virus that won't kill you.


In 1958, vaccinations contained the disease in Russia. The Russian government called for global containment of the disease. In the height of the cold war between Russia and the United States of America, the two governments cooperated for a common goal: to stop people from spreading and dying from smallpox.

Two nations, sworn enemies, set aside politics because people were dying. 

By the 1960s, they had reduced smallpox outbreaks, but it remained endemic in Africa and Asia.

 In 1967, WHO launched a ten-year initiative to eradicate smallpox. Countries across the globe worked together. A massive vaccination effort began. They entered war zones, displacement camps and worked tirelessly to trace contacts, educate the public, and vaccinate as many people as possible.

On May 8, 1980 the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated.

Are You Paying Attention?

At more than 4 million deaths in twenty months, COVID hasn’t reached the magnitude of smallpox yet. Or has it? Multiply that by 100 years. 

We can stop COVID deaths if all who physically can get the vaccination do. The science of vaccinations is real. It works.

How do I know all this? I became a nurse in the 1970s. The disease was rare in the U.S.A. but it cropped up once in a while.

In the 1980s, Rob Chilson and I researched the disease and wrote The White Box series of novellas about future medicine and the nightmare of smallpox returning. Back then, people remembered family members who’d died from the disease. Or they knew someone with the scars of the disease. Or they had the small vaccination scar on their arm.

In the ’80’s, we still had compassion for anyone who suffered smallpox. In the 1980s, both Mr. Chilson and I remembered the disease even though we hadn’t had it ourselves. We’d both had our vaccinations.

Your Relatives Protected You

Today, the smallpox virus only exists in two secure laboratory facilities in the U.S. and Russia. 

If you have no medical condition that prevents you from safely receiving the vaccine, and you CHOOSE not to get the vaccine. You are endangering people’s lives. The lives of your loved ones. Your friends and neighbors.

Smallpox is one deadly disease that won’t kill you because your relatives protected you by getting vaccinated. Today COVID might kill you or a family member who hasn’t even been born yet. If you get COVID and it doesn’t kill you, you may have lifelong disabilities after you recover. Don’t risk it. Put aside your politics, your conspiracy theories, and your fears. The life you save could be your own or your great, great grandchild.


The Keep Out Sign: National Library of Medicine – History of Medicine, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Graph representation of deaths by smallpox: Our World In Data, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Jenner’s progression developing the vaccine: Srcyr16, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers injecting smallpox into eggs: Dr. Stan Foster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born to Save Children from Whooping Cough

From childhood, Leila Daughtery-Denmark wanted to heal sick plants, animals, and people. She became a physician in 1928. For more than seventy years, her specialty was pediatrics. She believed doctors were born, not made. Turned out she was born to save children from whooping cough.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Early Life

The third child of Elerbee and Alice Hendricks Daughtry, Leila Daughtery cried her first cry on February 1, 1990. They lived in what is now Portal, Georgia, USA. 

Interested in healing and science, she would take cut flowers and try to heal them. If an animal or one of her eleven siblings were ill, she’d help heal them.

She attended local schools, then graduated from the First District Agricultural & Mechanical School, now Georgia Southern University

During her senior year at Bessie Tiff College in Forsythe, Georgia she served as a teaching assistant in biology. After two years of teaching she discovered it wasn’t what she wanted to do.

An Unplanned Delay

Though she’d never seen a woman doctor, but student volunteers spoke about a mission in India. Women in India could not be examined by a male physician. If she needed an exam her husband did it and told the doctor what he’d found. Leila decided those women needed a female doctor. 

She was engaged to John E. Denmark, who worked for the State Department. Leila thought she’d get married after graduation and forget about medical school. 

Before they could marry, Mr. Denmark got assigned to go to Java, Dutch Indies. No wives could accompany their husbands to that post. They postponed their wedding. And Leila decided to go to medical school.

A Woman Doctor

She applied to Emory University Medical School and never received a response. Perhaps because of her gender. 

In 1924, she went to the admissions staff at the Medical College of the University of Georgia in Augusta. They told her they had fifty-two men enrolled and had no more room for any students. She asked them to “Just try me out” for a few days. And they agreed. She believes if she hadn’t been a woman, that wouldn’t ploy wouldn’t have worked. 

There were two other women in that Medical College. One was a senior, and the other was a junior. Busy with their own learning, they didn’t mentor or encourage her. 

Leila denies any discrimination. She said she didn’t expect them to accept her. She showed up for meetings and got on with learning.

Mr. Denmark returned to the states in 1928 shortly before she graduated with her medical degree. They married seventy-two hours after her graduation.

They moved to Atlanta, where she volunteered at Grady Hospital.


Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children (now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) opened later that summer. Leila Denmark was the first intern and admitted the first patient. She was also an intern at CHOP, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The practice of medicine was primitive. They had no antibiotics, no X-rays, and no vaccines. Diphtheria, Typhoid fever, and Whooping Cough were killing “worlds of people,” including children.

Doctors learned which diseases caused which symptoms. They learned to recognize which conditions required surgery, how to do the surgery, and how to help their patients heal.

Healing patients wasn’t easy. They had to study the patient—what was their life like, what they ate, what was their complaint, and when they first got sick. Doctors tried to keep their sick patients nourished, hydrated, and to reduce their fever and pain. It was all they could do.

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) is a highly infectious respiratory disease. It’s causes a severe cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop.” Listen to the recording below.

Dougjenkinson, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Symptoms resemble a cold at first. After a week or two, thick mucous causes uncontrollable, prolonged coughing. These coughing spells can lead to vomiting, to struggling to breathe, and turning blue. Infants are especially vulnerable to the disease. They can’t eat or drink much without more coughing. Dehydration and pneumonia and respiratory distress or even stopping breathing are potential complications.

Practicing Medicine

In 1931, she opened a private practice in her home. She saw patients in her breakfast room. She also worked at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. And she volunteered as a doctor at the Presbyterian Church Baby Clinic in Atlanta.

Leila saw lots of patients with whooping cough. Lots of patients died. She recalls one family who lost three children to the disease. They had no treatment. She wanted to save children from whooping cough.

Co-Creator of the Pertussis Vaccine

In the 1930s, Leila began researching the disease. Her interest lay in how to diagnosis whooping cough, how to treat it, and immunization against it. Eventually she took some blood from a man who recovered from whooping cough. Spun the blood so the serum rose to the top. She gave a dose of the serum to a severely ill baby. To her surprise, the baby recovered quickly. Shortly after that, she began working with Ely-Lily and Emory University. They credit her as a co-creator of the vaccine. 

In 1935, they awarded her the Fisher Prize for outstanding research in the diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough (pertussis), in 1935. 

Author and Legacy

Leila wrote and published a book, “Every Child Should Have a Chance, in 1936.

She was an outspoken advocate for children. Teaching parents what nutrition their children needed. Urging mothers to remember that parenting was an honorable career and duty.

image of book cover of Dr. Denmark Said it has a baby listening to a teddy bear's heart with a stethoscope. Dr. Denmark was born to prevent whooping cough

Published in 1971, Denmark Said It!: Advice for Mothers from America’s Most Experienced Pediatrician,” is a reference guide of her advice.

Leila Daughtry-Denmark continued her practice treating grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her first patients. She worked until her eyesight grew too weak. She retired at 102.

Leila lived independently in her own home until age 106. She lived with her only child, a daughter, after that.

She died a super-centenarian at 114.

Born to Prevent Whooping Cough

Thankfully, Leila never went to India. She saved thousands of lives world-wide by co-creating the pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccination. Today, antibiotics can treat whooping cough seen in babies too young for the vaccine or teens who didn’t get the booster shot.

A strong woman, Leila Daughtry-Denmark believed doctors were born, not made. She was a practicing pediatrician for more than seventy years. She earned many awards. Recognized as a super-centenarian, she was born to save children from whooping cough.