In the midst of a pandemic, it is forgotten that people have managed to defeat the most dangerous diseases that have ravaged entire countries. Scientists estimate that vaccination prevents deaths of more than three million people every year. Some diseases are gone forever, some have retreated from entire countries and regions. We have a long way to go, but it is always useful to look back and remember the victories of science. Here are five diseases that were managed to eradicate:

5. Smallpox

Smallpox was transmitted by airborne droplets and killed about one third of those infected. There is no treatment for smallpox, so doctors just waited about two weeks to see if the patient would survive. Those lucky enough to survive are scarred for life.

In 1796, English doctor Edward Jenner noticed that people who have had cowpox (a lighter form of the disease for a person) never get sick from smallpox. Jenner inoculated his gardener's eight-year-old son, James Phipps, with cowpox. A couple of months later, he was vaccinated with natural smallpox, which had no effect. This is how the first vaccine was discovered.

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Edward Jenner inoculates James Phipps, the painting of the XIX century

This discovery made it possible to significantly reduce the death rate from smallpox. In 1959, the World Health Organization announced plans to completely eradicate smallpox. Billions of doses of the vaccine were produced, and local governments worked together with the international medical community. As a result, the last case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia in 1977. In 1980, smallpox was declared the first disease completely eradicated by people.

4. Polio

Polio is a virus that causes paralysis. Sometimes the disease develops mild symptoms, sometimes people are disabled for life. In the worst case, the paralysis spreads to the lungs and the person dies.

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Patients at the Texas Scottish Rite children's hospital in Dallas, Texas, USA, 1950.

In 1953, American scientist Jonas Salk created a polio vaccine. He refused to patent his invention to make the vaccine available to everyone. Mass production of the vaccine soon began, and by 1979 polio had been defeated in the United States. Who has set a goal to eliminate the disease worldwide and has developed a Global initiative to eradicate polio. From 1980 to 2016, the number of cases decreased by 99.99%. Currently, the disease is recorded only in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

3. Measles

In recent years, measles has started to return, because, unfortunately, not everyone is vaccinated against it. But in the global perspective, the number of measles cases has decreased dramatically over the past 50 years. Until 1963, almost every child in the United States had measles before the age of 15. Major epidemics occurred every 2-3 years, with an average of 2.6 million people dying annually.

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Measles virus

In 1954, Dr. Thomas S. Peebles of Harvard University asked a sick 11-year-old David Edmonston if he wanted to “be useful to humanity.” Peebles took swabs from David, and the future Nobel Prize winner John F. Enders. Enders was able to isolate the virus and created the Edmonston-Enders vaccine, which is still used today. Between 2000 and 2018, measles deaths decreased by 73 percent due to mass vaccination, saving an estimated 23.2 million people. In the United States (where measles was eliminated in 2000), only 1,282 cases were reported in 2019.

2. Tetanus

Tetanus is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacterium, which lives in soils around the world. Bacteria enter the body through open wounds, where they release toxic chemicals that cause paralysis and painful muscle contractions.

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Tonic contraction of the back and neck muscles — opisthotonus, observed in severe tetanus. From a painting by Sir Charles Bell, 1809

Since Clostridium tetani is resistant to chemicals and heat, tetanus is unlikely to be completely destroyed. But it can be limited by mass vaccination. So far, the efforts of doctors are bearing fruit. In 1990, 314,000 people worldwide died of tetanus. In 2017, only 38,000 deaths were recorded. This is a decrease of 88 percent. The largest number of cases were reported in South Sudan and Somalia.

1. Malaria

Malaria is caused by a small parasite in the blood that is spread by mosquito bites. Symptoms of malaria include fever, chills, headache, nausea, and body aches. Although this disease continues to affect people all over the world, people have managed to make a breakthrough in the fight against it. Malaria has been endemic to Europe, Africa, and Asia since time immemorial. When Europeans colonized North and South America, the disease began to spread. Historians estimate that at the height of the disease, 53 percent of the world's population was at risk of contracting malaria.

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The process of transmitting maleria


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