In Shakespeare’s day, wishing a pox on someone was a terrible curse.
Ten percent of the population in 17th century London died gruesomely of smallpox, a virus spread easily by airborne particles or contaminated clothing.
Infection began with fever, aches, sneezing, and nausea.
Soon a rash of red dots appeared, often covering the skin with dripping scabs.
Though some recovered, people could become blind, deaf, or severely scarred from smallpox.
None of the physicians’ attempts to treat smallpox with sheep manure or a golden needle helped at all.
But European peasants and traditional healers in Africa and Asia had discovered that exposure to a very small dose of the virus offered some protection.
Traditional healers inoculated scratches in the skin with a small amount of pus infected with smallpox.