Everything you need to know about monkeypox and why it’s not a cause for fear

(ORDO NEWS) — On May 18, 2022, Massachusetts public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a single case of monkeypox in a patient who had recently traveled to Canada. Cases have also been reported in the UK and Europe.

Monkeypox is not a new disease. The first confirmed human case occurred in 1970 when the virus was isolated from a child suspected of having smallpox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Monkeypox is unlikely to cause another pandemic, but with COVID-19 in the first place, the fear of another major outbreak is understandable. While monkeypox is rare and usually mild, it still has the potential to cause serious illness. Health officials fear that with more travel, the number of cases will increase.

I am a researcher with over three decades of experience in public health and medical laboratories, especially in the field of animal diseases. What exactly is happening during the current outbreak, and what does history tell us about monkeypox?

Cousin of smallpox

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to a subgroup of viruses in the Poxviridae family called Orthopoxvirus. This subset includes smallpox, vaccine, and vaccinia viruses. Although the animal reservoir for the monkeypox virus is unknown, African rodents are thought to play a role in the transmission of the virus.

The monkeypox virus has only been isolated from animals in nature twice. Diagnostic testing for monkeypox is currently only available from the Laboratory Response Network laboratories in the US and worldwide.

The name monkeypox comes from the first documented cases in animals in 1958, when two outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. However, the virus did not pass from monkeys to humans, and monkeys are not the main carriers of the disease.

Epidemiology

Since the first reported human case, monkeypox has been found in several other countries in Central and West Africa, with the majority of infections occurring in the DRC. Outside of Africa, cases have been associated with international travel or animal imports, including in the US and other countries.

The first cases of monkeypox in the United States were reported in 2003 as a result of an outbreak in Texas associated with a shipment of animals from Ghana. Travel-related cases were also reported in Maryland in November and July 2021.

Since monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine may provide protection against infection with both viruses. However, since smallpox was officially eradicated, routine smallpox vaccination of the US population was discontinued in 1972. As a result, monkeypox is increasingly occurring in unvaccinated humans.

Before acha

The virus can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or animal, or through contaminated surfaces. Typically, the virus enters the body through broken skin, by inhalation, or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Researchers believe that person-to-person transmission of the virus occurs primarily through inhalation of large respiratory droplets, rather than through direct contact with bodily fluids or indirect contact through clothing. Human-to-human transmission of the monkeypox virus has been limited.

Public health officials fear the virus may now be spreading undetected through community transmission, perhaps through a new mechanism or route. Where and how infections occur is still under investigation.

Signs and symptoms

Once the virus enters the body, it begins to multiply and spread through the body through the bloodstream. Symptoms usually do not appear until one to two weeks after infection.

Smallpox causes skin lesions similar to smallpox, but the symptoms are usually milder than those of smallpox. Flu-like symptoms are common at first, ranging from fever and headache to shortness of breath.

After one to ten days, a rash may appear on the limbs, head, or trunk, which eventually turns into blisters filled with pus. In general, symptoms usually last two to four weeks, and skin lesions usually resolve in 14 to 21 days.

Although monkeypox is rare and usually non-fatal, one variant of the disease kills about 10 percent of infected people. The currently circulating form of the virus is believed to be milder, with a mortality rate of less than 1 percent.

Vaccines and Treatment

Treatment for monkeypox is mainly aimed at relieving symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no treatments available to cure a monkeypox infection.

There is evidence that the smallpox vaccine can help prevent monkeypox infection and reduce the severity of symptoms. One vaccine, known as Imvamune or Imvanex, is licensed in the US for the prevention of monkeypox and smallpox.

Vaccination after exposure to the virus can also help reduce the chance of severe illness. The CDC currently recommends smallpox vaccination only for people who have been or may be infected with monkeypox. Immunocompromised people are at high risk.

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