What is Monkeypox

As the world continues to reel under coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impacts, global concerns have been raised over the recent increase in rare monkeypox infections in different parts of the world. Monkeypox is a virus transmitted to humans from animals, (viral zoonosis) with symptoms similar to those seen in smallpox patients.  It is caused by the monkeypox virus. Various animal species such as  tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice and rope squirrels have been identified as susceptible to monkeypox virus. The first monkeypox cases in humans were found in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An outbreak that occurred in the United States in 2003 was traced to a pet store where rodents imported from Ghana were sold. There are two distinct genetic clade of the monkeypox virus: the central African (Congo Basin) clade and the west African clade. The Congo Basin clade has historically caused more severe disease and was thought to be more transmissible. 

Signs and Symptoms of Monkeypox

In humans, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. They include fever, headache, muscle pains, shivering, backache, and feeling extremely tired. Typically there are swollen lymph nodes behind the ear, below the jaw, in the neck or in the groin. This is followed by a rash that forms blisters and crusts over; most frequently in the mouth, on the face, hands and feet, genitals and eyes. The time from exposure to onset of symptoms is on average 12 days, though ranges from 5-to-21 days. The duration of symptoms is typically two to four weeks. Cases may be severe, especially in children, pregnant women or people with suppressed immune systems.

Monkeypox Disease Transmission

Monkeypox can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose or mouth. Animal-to-human (zoonotic) transmission can occur from direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. The natural reservoir of monkeypox has not yet been identified, though rodents are the most likely. Eating inadequately cooked meat and other animal products of infected animals is a possible risk factor. People living in or near forested areas may have indirect or low-level exposure to infected animals. 

Monkeypox Prevention

There are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent infection with monkeypox virus but raising awareness of risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the virus is the main prevention strategy for monkeypox. You should avoid contact with animals that are sick or materials such as bedding, that has been in contact with a sick animal. Isolate infected patients from others who could be at risk for infection, Practice good hand hygiene after contact with infected animals or humans and use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients. Some countries have, or are developing, policies to offer vaccine to persons who may be at risk such as laboratory personnel, rapid response teams and health workers.

Monkeypox endemic countries

According to the CDC, monkeypox is more common in central and western Africa, particularly in tropical forested areas. Eleven countries have been reporting monkeypox cases since it was first discovered in 1970. They are:

  • Benin.
  • Cameroon.
  • The Central African Republic.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
  • Gabon.
  • Ivory Coast.
  • Liberia.
  • Nigeria.
  • Republic of the Congo.
  • Sierra Leone.
  • South Sudan.

Newly Reported Monkeypox cases

The following countries have newly reported confirmed cases of monkeypox so far this year:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium 
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Israel 
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • UAE
  • UK
  • US

Monkeypox treatment

Currently there is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox virus infections. However, antivirals developed for use in patients with smallpox may prove beneficial. Vaccination against smallpox has been proven to be 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. In most cases, Monkeypox symptoms resolve on their own without the need for treatment. 

Monkeypox and Travel

With the world still recovering from Covid-related travel restrictions, there have been concerns whether monkeypox could spell new curbs. There are no indications of any impact to world travel due to the disease as it does not spread easily between people. The risk of contracting monkeypox is also slow in most cases. A disease being present in different countries won’t automatically trigger an emergency declaration, especially if those countries can treat and contain the disease on their own. 

If an emergency is declared, the WHO committee will also issue temporary recommendations to member states, and those will almost certainly caution against travel restrictions which, while helpful to limit spread initially, can devastate countries that rely on trade and tourism, especially those with fragile economies and limited health capacities.