va·​ri·​o·​la və-ˈrī-ə-lə How to pronounce variola (audio) ˌver-ē-ˈō-lə How to pronounce variola (audio)
: smallpox
also : its causative poxvirus (species Variola virus of the genus Orthopoxvirus)

Examples of variola in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The variola virus that causes the deadly pox had been known to liquidate entire communities, towns, and cities since antiquity, stalking along trade routes and capitalizing upon human behavior and patterns of movement. Rebecca Kreston, Discover Magazine, 1 Aug. 2015 The variola virus that caused smallpox was not only lethal but also highly contagious. William A. Haseltine, Forbes, 21 June 2022 The variola virus that causes smallpox and the monkeypox virus belong to the same family. Jacqueline Howard, CNN, 24 May 2022 But other viruses, including influenza and variola (pox) have been found in archaeological human remains as much as 400 years old, and Mühlemann says that others like herpes viruses, parvoviruses, and adenoviruses might be good candidates. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, 11 May 2018 Additional testing of the variola samples is under way to determine if the material in the vials is viable (i.e., can grow in tissue culture). Maryn McKenna, WIRED, 8 July 2014

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'variola.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Medieval Latin, "pustule, pox," going back to Late Latin, "pustule," from varius "affected by pox, leprous" (adjective derivative of varus "pimple" + Latin -ola, variant of -ula -ule after vowels) — more at varix

Note: Late Latin varius is very likely independent of classical varius "having contrasting colors, varied" (see various entry 1).

First Known Use

1543, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of variola was in 1543

Dictionary Entries Near variola

Cite this Entry

“Variola.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Medical Definition


va·​ri·​o·​la və-ˈrī-ə-lə How to pronounce variola (audio)
: smallpox
also : the poxvirus of the genus Orthopoxvirus (species Variola virus) that is the causative agent of smallpox
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