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Vaccination & Immunization Message Board

Vaccination & Immunization Board Index

Actually, although the names sound similar, chicken pox isn't related to cowpox, monkeypox, or smallpox. Cowpox, monkeypox, and smallpox are all in the virus family Poxviridae and smallpox is caused by the variola virus (I'm not sure about the others).

Chicken pox and shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is in a completely different family. They are both caused by the same virus. Shingles occurs when the virus is left over in the body after chicken pox and gets reactivated. A person with shingles can pass the virus to somebody who is not immune and cause chicken pox in that person. (You can't catch shingles from somebody, though, because it is caused by reactivation of the dormant virus in your body.)

According to studies conducted by the CDC, people who have been vaccinated against chicken pox are less likely to have shingles than people who had chicken pox.

Herpes is cause by two related viruses, herpes simplex 1 and 2.

I'm not sure what the relationship is between the herpes simplex viruses and the varicella-zoster virus, but they are distinct viruses and not related at all to the Poxviridae which cause all of the other pox diseases.
The full history of smallpox vaccination... It's really a pretty interesting history. You've got most of the pieces there, so I thought you might enjoy the whole story.

The first method of preventing smallpox was called variolation. In this process, scabs are removed from smallpox victims and saved (preferably for at least a year, to kill or weaken the virus). The old scabs are then either scratched into the skin or inhaled through a straw into the nose, which produces a mild case of smallpox. During this time, the variolated individual is contagious and can give smallpox to others. The process of variolation originated in Asia. It was brought to Europe in the 1700s by Mary Pierrepont, who was married to Edward Montague, the ambassador to Turkey. She had had smallpox and didn't want her son to get it, and learned about variolation when she was in Turkey with her husband. She had her son variolated, then when they came back to England she advocated the practice. Eventually, variolation caught on in Europe, and spread to the Americas.

Later, a doctor in England, Edward Jenner, was trying to come up with a better (less risky) way of preventing smallpox. He noticed that milk maids seemed to be immune to smallpox, and connected this to the fact that milk maids almost always contracted cowpox, which is a much less severe disease for humans than smallpox. Jenner devised an experimental vaccine (named for the latin word for cow, vaca) based on the cowpox virus, and administered it to a young boy (maybe 10 or 12) named James Fipps. The vaccine worked, protecting against smallpox while not causing severe illness, and also not making the vaccinated person contagious.

Today, the smallpox vaccine is based on the actual smallpox virus, but without the side effects of variolation.

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