Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Last Man

Who was the last smallpox patient?
Ali Maow Maalin was exposed to the disease on October 12, 1977, while guiding a vehicle with two smallpox-infected children. On the 22nd, he fell ill and developed a fever. By the 26th, the rash appeared on his skin. He was misdiagnosed with chickenpox and sent home.

As his symptoms developed, it became clear he had smallpox, but Ali Maow Maalin did not want to go to an isolation camp, so he did not tell local disease surveillance officials. A friend, however, eventually reported his condition and collected a reward.

All told, he came into face-to-face contact with 91 people, which led the World Health Organization to undertake a massive intervention to prevent the re-spreading of the disease.
The eradication of wild smallpox should be remembered as one of the great triumphs of medicine, and as a lesson on how to deal with future disease outbreaks.

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