Smallpox, a highly contagious virus that kills at least 30 percent of its victims and disfigures many who survive, was eradicated from the globe more than two decades ago. Scientists retained stocks of the variola virus, which causes the disease, and stored them in secure laboratories in Atlanta, Georgia, and Moscow, Russia. A smallpox attack is just one of many potential bioterrorism threats, but "perhaps it is the most frightening," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health.
"It's a virus that's easily transmitted from person to person through aerosolized droplets from saliva and other body fluids," said Fauci, speaking before a Senate panel. "It is unlike anthrax in that it can be transmitted from person to person and not just a danger by a direct contact". "There are other possibilities that stores (of smallpox) may exist outside of those locations," Fauci said. "So the threat of the use of smallpox as a bioterrorist weapon is real."
Symptoms of smallpox typically appear about 12 days after infection and include high fever, fatigue, and head and back pain. A characteristic rash also appears about two or three days later on the face, arms and legs. The rash starts with flat red lesions, but then become pus-filled and begins to crust in the second week.
The threat of smallpox as a bioterrorist weapon is real and health officials are doing everything they can to "keep the citizens of our nation safe" from such an attack, the head of the National Institutes of Health said Friday. Health officials are working to stockpile vaccines and prepare local officials for a potential attack.