What is Monkeypox and how dangerous is it? Cases are rising around the world

An image created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 1996 to 1997, shows the arms and torso of a patient with skin lesions due to monkeypox, in this image undated obtained by Reuters May 18, 2022. CDC/Brian WJ Mahy/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

CDC | Brian WJ Mahy | Reuters

Health authorities in Europe, the United States and Australia are investigating a recent outbreak of monkeypox, a rare viral disease usually confined to Africa.

Germany reported its first case of the virus on Friday, becoming the latest European country to identify an outbreak alongside the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Sweden.

The United States and Australia also confirmed their first cases this week, as experts try to determine the root cause of the recent spike.

While some cases have been linked to travel from Africa, more recent infections are believed to have spread in the community, raising the risks of a wider outbreak.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Infection and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said they are investigating a range of cases, including those among people who identify as men who have sex with men, and urged gay and bisexual men in particular to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions.

In the UK alone, cases have doubled since the first was identified on May 7. The country now has 20 confirmed cases of monkeypox, although it is feared there are many more undetected.

People with symptoms of the virus – which include rashes and fever – are urged to seek medical attention, contacting any clinic before visiting.

“These latest cases, along with case reports from countries across Europe, confirm our initial concerns that monkeypox could spread within our communities,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UKHSA.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox, although generally less severe.

Usually found in remote areas of central and western Africa, the virus was first detected in captive monkeys in 1958. The first human case was recorded in 1970.

Monkeypox reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 after four decades without a single confirmed case. As of May 2022, 450 cases had been reported in the country.

The Washington Post | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Since then, sporadic cases have been reported in 10 African countries, including Nigeria, which in 2017 experienced the largest documented outbreak, with 172 suspected cases and 61 confirmed cases. Three-quarters involved men aged 21 to 40.

Cases outside of Africa have historically been less frequent and usually linked to international travel or imported animals. Previous cases have been reported in Israel, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States, which in 2003 reported 81 cases linked to prairie dogs infected by imported animals.

How do you catch monkeypox?

Monkeypox is spread when a person comes into close contact with another person, animal, or material infected with the virus.

The virus can enter the body through damaged skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose and mouth.

In this 1971 photo from the Centers for Disease Control, monkeypox-like lesions are shown on a girl’s arm and leg in Bondua, Liberia.

CDC | Getty Images

Human-to-human transmission most often occurs through respiratory droplets, although it usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact. Transmission from animals to humans can occur via a bite or a scratch.

Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, although it can be transmitted during sex.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling, and back pain.

Patients typically develop a rash one to three days after the onset of fever, often starting on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The rash, which can be very itchy, then goes through several stages before the legions scab over and fall off.

The infection usually lasts two to four weeks and usually goes away on its own.

what is the treatement?

There is currently no proven and safe treatment for monkeypox, although most cases are mild.

People suspected of having the virus can be isolated in a negative pressure room – spaces used to isolate patients – and monitored by medical professionals using personal protective equipment.

The palms of a monkeypox patient from Lodja, a town in the Katako-Kombe health zone, are seen during a health survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997.

CDC | Reuters

Smallpox vaccines, however, have been shown to be largely effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Countries like the UK and Spain are now offering the vaccine to those who have been exposed to infections to help reduce symptoms and limit the spread.

How dangerous is it?

Cases of monkeypox can sometimes be more serious, with some deaths reported in West Africa.

However, health authorities stress that we are not on the verge of a serious epidemic and that the risks for the general public remain very low.

“While investigations are ongoing to determine the source of infection, it is important to emphasize that it does not spread easily between people and requires close personal contact with a symptomatic infected person,” said Colin Brown. , Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA. .

Health authorities in the UK, US and Canada have urged people who experience new rashes or are concerned about monkeypox to contact their healthcare provider.

The UKHSA added that it was reaching out and providing advice to all potential close contacts of cases and healthcare workers who may have come into contact with infected patients.

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