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Cowpox is a contagious viral disease of cows and is a mild form of smallpox. It has been around for hundreds of years. There are many hosts of the disease including voles and woodmice even spreading to cats. The last recorded case of a cow with cowpox in the UK was in 1978. There are about 1-4 cases in man per year.

As the disease progresses the cows develop pustular eruptions, particularly on the udders and teats. People can catch cowpox by direct contact with an infected animal. People infected with cowpox are immune to smallpox which is a much more serious disease.

People can catch cowpox by direct contact with an infected animal and they then go on to develop pustules, on their hands.

These are quite painful and there is a general feeling of being unwell. The incubation period is about 1 week and the illness lasts about 4-6 weeks. There is a full recovery.

It had always been noticed in rural communities that dairy maids who caught cowpox would never get smallpox- they were immune.

This was investigated by Edward Jenner in 1796 and the vaccine for smallpox produced. This effectively wiped out smallpox which was a major killer at the time.