Recent cases of anthrax in the United States have generated much
discussion about the threat Americans may face from chemical and
biological terrorist attacks. Some experts believe other biological
agents pose far greater threats than anthrax. Smallpox is one of
Smallpox is a contagious virus with a high mortality rate. But
in 1980, after a thirteen-year campaign, the World Health
Organization officially declared the disease eradicated. Smallpox
vaccinations haven't been given to the general population in the
United States since 1972.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American Indians
called smallpox "Rotting Face, "a plague so terrible parents
sometimes killed their children to save them from the agony.
R. G. Robertson tells the story of America's last great smallpox
epidemic. The smallpox outbreak of 1837-1838 on the Northern
Plains, forever changed the political and social structure of the
tribes in that region. Before it ran out of human fuel, Rotting
Face claimed an estimated 20,000 natives, doing more damage to the
tribes in one year than all the military expeditions sent against
the American Indian before or after.
Robertson details the history of smallpox and the profound
impact the disease had in Europe, Asia and other regions of the
Americas, where it killed or maimed rich and poor, royalty and
peasant alike. It also gives the reader a chilling look at what can
happen when the disease attacks a "virgin population" with little
immunity -- like modern-day America.
Robertson's gripping account also dispels some popular myths
about the role of early-day whites in the spread of this
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