Monkeypox FAQ: Symptoms, treatment and vaccines explained
An outbreak of the monkeypox virus in Europe - with cases also reported in the United States, Canada, and Australia - has raised red flags worldwide, even as these and other nations still fight the Covid pandemic. The World Health Organization on Friday said there are 80 confirmed cases (some data suggests this is over 100 already) and around 50 suspected cases, with more likely as surveillance expands. The rapid spread of a virus normally endemic to parts of Africa was exemplified yesterday with France, Belgium and Germany all reporting first cases within hours of each other, and the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal reporting substantial increases in caseloads. The WHO has already warned the world the spread of cases could 'accelerate'.
The monkeypox virus - what is it?
The monkeypox virus is a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae. Simply put, it is a viral zoonotic disease occurring primarily in forested parts of central and west Africa.
It originates in wild animals and then spreads to people and presents (usually) as a mild infection with symptoms that include fever, headaches and skin rashes. It may, however, also lead to a range of medical complications, the WHO has advised. There are two main variants – the Congo strain - up to 10 per cent mortality, and the West African strain - a 1 per cent fatality rate.
How does the virus spread?
The virus jumps when people come into close physical contact with an infected animal, especially one that is sick or dead. This includes contact with meat or blood; in nations where the virus is endemic or circulating all meat should be thoroughly cooked before eating, the WHO said.
Monkeypox can also spread between people; you can catch it if you have close physical contact with an infected individual. Clothing, bedding and towels, and objects like eating utensils/dishes contaminated with the virus via contact with an infected person, can also infect you.
It is unclear if people who are asymptomatic can also spread the disease.
Children are typically more prone to severe symptoms than adolescents and adults. The virus can also be passed to a foetus or to a new-born through birth or early physical contact, the WHO said.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Monkeypox symptoms include fever, muscle ache, intense headaches, swollen lymph nodes, skin rashes or lesions, low energy and back pain. The WHO describes it as a 'self-limited disease with symptoms lasting from two to four weeks'. Severe cases can occur, the global health body has said, adding that recent case fatality ratios have been between three and six per cent.
"If you think you have symptoms that could be monkeypox, seek advice from your health care provider. Let them know if you have had close contact with someone who has suspected or confirmed monkeypox," a statement from the WHO read.
Is monkeypox sexually transmitted?
Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex, i.e., via lesions on the skin. It is currently unknown if it spreads through semen or vaginal fluids. Because rashes can also emerge on genitals and inside the mouth, oral sex could also be a route of transmission for the virus.
Recent headlines have been on this aspect, with UK and US health bodies, as well as the WHO, warning of risks to gay and bisexual men. "… seeing transmission among men having sex with men," Ibrahima Soce Fall, assistant director general for emergency response at the WHO, said this week.
It is important to understand the risk of infection 'is not limited to people who are sexually active or men who have sex with men', the WHO said, adding "Anyone who has close physical contact with someone who is infectious is at risk."
What should you do if have monkeypox symptoms?
People who think they have symptoms of monkeypox should contact health workers for advice, testing and medical care. "If possible, self-isolate and avoid close contact with others," the WHO said, and advised such people to regularly sanitise their hands.
What is the treatment for monkeypox?
As mentioned before, symptoms usually go away on their own without any treatment.
Symptoms often resolve without need for treatment but it is important to keep rashes and affected areas - let it dry, if possible, or cover with a moist dressing to protect it, the WHO said.
Avoid touching sores in the mouth or eyes. Avoid products that contain cortisone if you wish to rinse your mouth or use eye drops. According to the WHO, vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) may be recommended for severe cases.
Are there any vaccines?
An antiviral developed to treat smallpox (tecovirimat, commercialized as TPOXX) has been approved for treatment of monkeypox.
Other vaccines for smallpox may provide limited protection since both diseases are from the same family. People vaccinated against smallpox will have some protection against monkeypox.
People below the 40-50 age group are unlikely to have been inoculated against smallpox since vaccination ended back in 1980, the WHO said.
(With inputs from World Health Organization)
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