Smallpox epidemiologist Donald Ainslie Henderson dies at 87

American epidemiologist Donald Ainslie Henderson — leader of the international campaign against smallpox in the 1980s — has passed away at age 87 due to complications from a hip fracture.

D.A. will forever be known for his work as a “disease detective,” which led to the eradication of smallpox more than 30 years ago. This achievement was the only such vanquishment of a human disease in history, consequently saving millions of lives.

Henderson had spent years as an official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) before joining the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health. He served as the dean.

He also became a bioterrorism and science adviser under three presidential administrations in the United States. But it was Henderson’s “war” against smallpox that changed the world.

About Smallpox

  • Smallpox is considered as one of the most lethal diseases in history, killing about 300 million people in the 20th century alone. Smallpox is caused by the variola virus and can afflict fever and flulike symptoms to infected patients before they develop a rash of the pustules.
  • Nicknamed the “speckled monster,” the disease has left survivors almost blind or disfigured.
  • An 18th century English physician named Edward Jenner found that the cowpox virus produced immunity against smallpox. Jenner is known as the father of the smallpox vaccine, which had been perfected over time.
  • In 1980 WHO declared the World Smallpox Free after taking several measures and champion programme against small pox eradication in various countries.

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