The name cowpox was discovered because the disease was popular among dairy workers many centuries ago. Cowpox is a viral infection of the skin by a close relative to vaccinia virus, which causes red blisters localized to the area of infection. The viral disease is relatively mild so that patients are most likely to recover from the infection. And surviving cowpox patients are found to be immune against another deadlier viral infection: smallpox.
Today, cowpox is almost an eradicated disease with very rare cases showing up in Great Britain and other European countries. The disease is common to young people; 50 percent of the patients are below 18 years old. And cowpox' number one repository are no longer cows but forest rodents and felines who feeds on them.
Mode of transmission of cowpox
Hundreds of years ago, cowpox infection among dairy workers is very common. Dairy farmers associated with infected cows in a daily basis are the most likely to contract the virus. Nowadays, however, cowpox infection is commonly caused from association with forest rodents that are the number one repository of the cowpox virus. Pet cats that happen to feed on infected rodents are the number one carrier of the cowpox virus to humans. A scratch or a bite from infected cats is enough for a human to acquire the virus and get infected.
Symptoms of cowpox
The classic symptom of cowpox is localized pus-like lesions that appear on the area of infection: usually on the hands and face. The lesion first appear as blister which will then contain pus, develop into an ulcer, and eventually forms a scab before falling off. The patient can also manifest swelling of lymph nodes, pain around the lesion, fever, loss of appetite, and muscle and headaches. However, the survival rate of cowpox is very high so that there's no known fatality over cowpox reported.
Treatment and management of cowpox
Cowpox infection is self-limiting; it heals on its own without needing medication. The lesions go away within 6 to 12 weeks; however, they are most likely to leave scars. Bed rest and supportive therapy such as proper diet is enough to help the immune system fight cowpox virus. Proper management of the lesions, however, is needed to avoid secondary bacterial infection. A course of antibacterial medication may also be given to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infection. The lesions must be regularly cleaned and covered with bandage to avoid spreading viral particles to other parts of the body and even to another person.
Cowpox as smallpox vaccine
In 1774, a dairy farmer Benjamin Jesty observed that cowpox victims developed immunity against smallpox. He inoculated cowpox to his family saving them from the smallpox epidemic at that time. However, it was Edward Jenner who launched and extensive study about cowpox as smallpox vaccine, and he published his work in medical journals so that the credit goes to him. Whether Jenner had previous knowledge about the works of Jesty or not was never mentioned.