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December 14, 1984

Rhazes: The Original Portrayer of Smallpox

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pathology and Oncology, The University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City.

JAMA. 1984;252(22):3156-3159. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350220062033

THE ANNOUNCEMENT on Dec 9, 1979, by the World Health Organization of the global eradication of smallpox has inspired a number of publications to commemorate this unique and phenomenal achievement.1-4 Both physicians and nonphysicians have been responsible for milestones in the long history of this disease, described by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) as "the most terrible of all ministers of death." Although smallpox has existed since antiquity, as testified by the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V, who died in 1157 BC, the first graphic description of smallpox and its differentiation from measles was written circa 910 AD by the Persian physician Rhazes. This original classic monograph, written in Arabic and entitled A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles, has been known to the West through various translations since the 15th century and constituted the main source of information on this disease for hundreds of years. The author of this treatise and