The WHO confirmed 92 monkeypox cases in 12 countries

There are also 28 suspected cases.
Ameya Paleja
Hands of a monkeypox patient.CDC/ Brian W.J. Mahy

As many as 12 nations that are not endemic to the monkeypox virus have reported confirmed disease cases. Ongoing surveillance measures will bring out more disease cases globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a press release about the outbreak. 

According to Saturday's updated numbers, the disease that barely came into the news 10 days ago already has about 92 confirmed cases with another 28 suspected cases. So far, the U.S. has only one confirmed case of the virus in a person with no travel history to regions in Africa where the disease is endemic. 

What is monkeypox and how does one get it? 

Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease - a condition that is transmitted from animals to humans. While the first cases of monkeypox were observed in monkeys in 1958, the disease is transmitted by smaller animals such as rodents. Symptoms of the disease include unexplained rash and lesions as well as headaches, body aches, weakness, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.

Interestingly, these are also the symptoms of smallpox, a disease caused by a virus belonging to the same family called Poxviridae, but has been eradicated through vaccinations. Epidemiologists also suggest that smallpox vaccination can offer a certain degree of protection against the monkeypox virus as well. However, since eradicating the disease, smallpox vaccinations have been removed from inoculation drives in most countries. 

Compared to smallpox, monkeypox is a relatively milder disease and resolves in a period of two-four weeks. However, the disease can get severe in certain groups such as immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women, and children. There are two main strains of the virus that causes these infections, and one is found more frequently in West Africa, while the other is found in the Congo River Basin region. The West African clade of the virus causes less severe disease and has a 3.6 percent cases fatality rate. In comparison, the other virus variant causes more severe disease and has a fatality rate of 10.6 percent, the press release said. 

Human to human transmission is relatively rare but has been documented through close contact with the lesions, body fluids, inhaling respiratory droplets, and coming in contact with contaminated material such as bedding. Although not exclusive, the cases reported so far have shown that the disease is spreading in men who have sex with men prompting health agencies to issue alerts to seek medical care if individuals find themselves with an unexplained rash and related symptoms. The incubation period for the infection can range from 5 to 21 days. 

Efforts to stop the spread of the virus

In 2019, a vaccine against monkeypox was approved, while a drug, tecovirimat, was approved earlier this year. However, both these countermeasures are not widely available, the WHO has said. While no deaths have been reported so far, health agencies suspect that the virus is being transmitted at a community level, and more cases will be reported in due course of time. 

Given its transmission route, the virus is unlikely to cause a pandemic like COVID-19. However, the WHO has recommended increasing surveillance using PCR-testing to confirm suspected cases that might show up at various healthcare settings ranging from primary care to sexual health clinics, fever clinics to dermatology clinics.