Outbreaks of smallpox (i.e., caused by variola virus) resulted in up to 30% mortality, but those who survived smallpox infection were regarded as immune for life. Early studies described the levels of neutralizing antibodies induced after infection, but smallpox was eradicated before contemporary methods for quantifying T-cell memory were developed. To better understand the levels and duration of immunity after smallpox infection, we performed a case-control study comparing antiviral CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses and neutralizing antibody levels of 24 smallpox survivors with the antiviral immunity observed in 60 smallpox-vaccinated (i.e., vaccinia virus-immune) control subjects. We found that the duration of immunity following smallpox infection was remarkably similar to that observed after smallpox vaccination, with antiviral T-cell responses that declined slowly over time and antiviral antibody responses that remained stable for decades after recovery from infection. These results indicate that severe, potentially life-threatening disease is not required for the development of sustainable long-term immunity. This study shows that the levels of immunity induced following smallpox vaccination are comparable in magnitude to that achieved through natural variola virus infection, and this may explain the notable success of vaccination in eradicating smallpox, one of the world's most lethal diseases.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science