The smallpox vaccine and postvaccinal encephalitis

Karen L. Roos, Nancy L. Eckerman

Research output: Contribution to journalShort survey

10 Scopus citations


Smallpox is one of the deadliest infectious diseases in history. The discovery by Edward Jenner that inoculation with a droplet of pus from a cow with cowpox protected a person from smallpox resulted in the successful vaccination of millions of people. There were, however, complications associated with smallpox vaccination; the most serious complication was postvaccinal encephalitis, which was reported to occur with an incidence of 1 in 110,000 vaccinations and a case-fatality rate of 50%. Before we become complacent with the idea that we will respond to a bioterrorism attack with a mass immunization program for smallpox, it is important to be reminded of the risk and clinical manifestations of postvaccinal encephalitis and the efficacy of antivaccinia gammaglobulin in preventing this complication. The first case of postvaccinal encephalitis as a complication of the Jennerian cowpox inoculation was observed in 1905. A century later, there is no effective therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-98
Number of pages4
JournalSeminars in neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Antivaccinia gamma-globulin
  • History of medicine
  • Postvaccinal encephalitis
  • Smallpox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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