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The Kids Who Fought Smallpox


Mariana Relós
Reprinted with permission of Highlights for Children

“Princess María Luisa has smallpox, the red death!”

In 1798 panic struck the palace where King Carlos IV of Spain lived with his family. The doctor didn’t have a medicine to cure the princess. Terrified, the king could only wait for the outcome of the disease.

Smallpox or, variola, was the most terrible disease of the time. It caused a deadly epidemic every ten to twenty years.

The disease was caused by a type of germ called a virus. Since most adults were survivors of past epidemics, their bodies had built defenses against it. As a result, the virus was caught mostly by children. They developed high fever, chills, nausea, aches, and itchy red spots over their bodies. Many of them died.

In the survivors, scabs formed and then fell off, leaving permanent pits and scars. Some survivors were left blind.

Princess María Luisa survived smallpox, and the King of Spain protected the rest of his family from the disease. He used a new method that was slowly becoming accepted.

This is the end of the excerpt from this award-winning article. To read the rest of the story check your Library for Highlights for Children of May 2000