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Who Discovered Smallpox?

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The history of smallpox is not very definitive. According to historians, the virus originated from various parts of Africa about 16,000 to 68,000 years ago. The first evidence of smallpox as a disease was found in ancient China from 1122 BC and India from 1500 BC. The first, credible evidence of smallpox have been discovered in the mummy of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V from 1157 BC.

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-RaziAbu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (c. 865-925) had written numerous books on medicine including a topic on smallpox disease.

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi

Over time, smallpox have caused major and minor epidemics in China, Rome, Cyprus, Greece, Japan, Mecca, Arabia and Europe, all between 49 to 800 AD. The history of smallpox spreading to Europe or other parts of Asia is also not very clear. The first person to actually document smallpox was Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, a renowned Persian physician and scientist.

About Razi

Because of his credible, definitive observation, the discovery of smallpox is largely credited to him. He is also known as Razi or Rhazes and is often referred to as the greatest clinician by many experts. Razi was born in 865 AD and received his educations in various fields like metaphysics, mathematics, philosophy and music. However, he decided to pursue a career in medicine and worked on various fields of experimental medicines and clinical trials.

Wrote a book on smallpox and measles

He has contributed to over 200 books in various area of medical science and related studies. Before Razi, smallpox was considered as the same disease as measles. He was the first person to distinguish these two disease in his book “Kitab fi al-jadari wa-al-hasbah” (The Book of Smallpox and Measles) therefore making the discovery on smallpox.

Did he discovered smallpox or chickenpox?

However, when he wrote his book, he probably couldn’t differentiate between the smallpox disease and the chickenpox disease as both can look quite similar. Most people in those days believe that chickenpox is actually a milder version of smallpox and that both are the same disease. However, in the 18th century, William Heberden, an English physician, finally proved that smallpox and chickenpox are two distinct disease.

Cure for smallpox: Discovery of smallpox vaccine.