The outbreak of monkeypox first detected in the UK and Portugal has spread into Europe and North America. As many as 92 individuals have shown symptoms compatible with the viral infection so far, according to the recent report published by the World Health Organization.
What is monkeypox? Does it come from monkeys?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes monkeypox as "a rare disease" caused due to an infection caused by the monkeypox virus, belonging to the same genus, Orthopoxvirus, which includes the variola virus that causes smallpox, vaccinia virus used to make the vaccine for smallpox and the cowpox virus.
The first non-human case of monkeypox was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in lab monkeys. This is where the name of the virus comes from. However, the natural reservoir of monkeypox still remains unknown and the World Health Organization speculates that rodents are the most likely source.
The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries, the CDC says on its website.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. They start with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion and continue to cause lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy). After 1 to 3 days of fever, the patient develops a rash. This condition often starts on the face and then spreads to other body parts.
How is it transmitted?
The virus enters the human body through contact with broken skin, respiratory tract, or mucous membranes. This can happen through contact with the virus from an animal or materials contaminated with the virus. Though rare, human-to-human transmission occurs through large respiratory droplets. Since these droplets generally cannot travel very far, prolonged face-to-face contact is required. Other transmission methods include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material as well as contaminated clothing.
British health authorities had revealed that there were a total of seven suspected cases in the UK, six in London, and one in the northeast of England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was investigating possible links between them. The Spanish health ministry said that eight suspected cases were all reported in the Madrid region and pointed toward fluid contact as the source of the infection.
Health authorities have observed a sexual route of transmission of the infection, especially in men who have sex with men (MSM). While this does not make monkeypox a sexually transmitted disease yet, the new route of transmission puts several individuals at the risk of contracting the infection, even if they have not traveled to countries in Central or Western Africa, where the infection is endemic.
How can transmission be avoided?
The CDC suggests avoiding all contact with animals or humans that have been infected, including any material that they may have been in contact with. The WHO has advised individuals, especially MSM, to seek medical help if they come across an unexplained rash and develop any of the symptoms listed above.
Belgium has imposed a 21-day mandatory quarantine period for individuals who have been infected. Regular hand washing and good hygiene are also highly encouraged.
Can the virus be treated?
Earlier this year, a drug for the treatment of monkeypox was approved. However, it isn't available widely and antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) may be used to treat the infection along with symptomatic relief in case of an infection.
Symptoms generally go away within 3-4 weeks and the patient can recover. However, in case of the vulnerable populations such as immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant women, there is a risk of fatality from these infections.
A vaccine for monkeypox was also approved in 2019 but even the smallpox vaccine can be about 85 percent effective in guarding against monkeypox, CNBC reported.
Updated 25th May 10 pm ET.