June 7, 1985

Mummified, Frozen Smallpox: Is It a Threat?

Author Affiliations

The Hospital for Sick Children Toronto

JAMA. 1985;253(21):3095. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03350450067022

To the Editor.—  Recently there has been an increased interest in the paleontology of smallpox,1 with the mummy of Ramses V, who is covered with a characteristic rash, being referred to as a typical case of smallpox in the ancient world.2In his article, Dr Zuckerman1 underlined the fact that the possibility of infection from ancient smallpox is small, but nevertheless the author recommended vaccination of all archeologists and anthropologists in this field.Vaccination should not be recommended routinely for archeologists and anthropologists, as vaccination does carry risks and the danger of smallpox from the sources he described is nil.However, areas where there is permafrost may provide an exception to this recommendation. Over the years, unsuccessfully as yet, we have tried to locate graves of persons known to have had smallpox who have died in the last 150 years in the Arctic.3Some of these