Spread of monkeypox: what you need to know

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A teenager from the village of Manfuette is being examined by Congolese doctors and suspected of having monkeypox in Manfuette, Republic of Congo, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. The Washington Post/Getty Images
  • Since early May 2022, many countries in Europe, as well as Australia and the United States, have reported increasing numbers of monkeypox cases.
  • As a viral disease originating in Africa, monkeypox is usually transmitted through animal-human contact, causing skin lesions, fever and body aches in people infected with the virus.
  • Some recent cases of monkeypox have involved men who have had sex with men, however, experts say the disease is not a sexually transmitted infection but can be spread through direct contact during sex.

This is a developing story. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a zoonotic virus appears to be spreading across Europe and North America.

Monkeypox has made progress in the UK, Spain and Portugal since early May 2022. France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Australia have also confirmed at least one case in each country.

In the UK, 20 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed since early May. During a press conference on May 17World Health Organization (WHO) officials said they were mostly separate events except for a “family cluster with two confirmed cases and one probable case”.[…]”

Recently, Canada and the United States joined these countries in tracking and tracing the virus.

As of May 19, Canada has confirmed two cases of monkeypox and said it is investigating 17 suspected cases. The Massachusetts Department of Health also announced a single case in a person who had recently visited Canada. Several of the Canadian cases have been linked to this person.

On May 18, Scott Pauley, press officer at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), says Medical News Today:

“The UK informed the US of 8 people in the US who may have been seated near the British traveler when he flew from Nigeria to London. [on May 3-4, 2022]. Of these, one is no longer in the United States and the other was not a contact. The other six are monitored by their respective health departments. None of these six travel contacts have symptoms of monkeypox and their risk of infection is very low.

WHO officials tracked monkeypox’s path through Europe and North America for several weeks. However, with the data available so far, they have not known for a long time that the virus is spreading.

Monkeypox is a zoonotic virus, which transmits the disease from animals to humans. Cases usually occur near tropical rainforests, where animals carrying the virus live.

The monkeypox virus is a member of the orthopoxvirus family. It also has two distinct genetic strains or clades: the Central African clade (Congo Basin) and the West African clade. The Congo Basin clade is known to spread more easily and cause more severe symptoms.

Monkeypox occurs naturally in Africa, especially in West and Central African countries. Cases in the United States are rare and associated with international travel from places where the disease is more common.

Monkeypox symptoms and signs include headache, rash, fever, body aches, chills, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. It produces symptoms similar to smallpox, but milder.

The time between infection and the onset of symptoms, called the incubation period, can range from five to 21 days. The disease usually disappears in two to four weeks.

Severe cases are more common in people with underlying immune deficiencies and young children. Recently, the case mortality rate of monkeypox is about 3-6%.

Transmission of monkeypox virus among humans is limited, but it can occur through close contact with skin, air droplets, bodily fluids, and objects contaminated with the virus.

Most recent cases of monkeypox in the UK and Canada have been reported among people attending sexual health services at health clinics for men who have sex with men.

Regarding this trend, Dr I. Socé Fall, Regional Director of Emergencies of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, warned:

“This is new information that we need to study properly to better understand local transmission dynamics in the UK and some other countries.”

At a May 17 press conference, Dr. Fall acknowledged that public health officials still have a lot to learn about the monkeypox virus.

“But the most important thing is that we really need to invest in understanding the development of monkeypox because we have so many unknowns in terms of transmission dynamics, clinical characteristics, epidemiology. Also in terms of therapeutics and diagnostics, we still have significant gaps,” he said.

WHO experts believe that solutions to monkeypox calls must go beyond disease control.

During the press conference, Dr. Michael Ryanexecutive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “[G]Getting answers isn’t just about getting answers about the virus. We need to get answers about hosts, we need to get answers about human behavior and practices, and we need to operate at all levels to try to ensure that human populations are protected.

For more insight, Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, Clinical Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Global Medicine and Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the University of Florida.

“It is very important to be aware of the rash of monkeypox which presents as blisters. Additional measures include vigilance in those who have traveled in the past 30 days to countries that have reported cases of monkeypox [and] who are in contact with a person with confirmed or suspected monkeypox.
— Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi

Dr. Cherabuddi mentioned that smallpox vaccinations offer some protection against monkeypox. He said that the Democratic Republic of Congo currently employs ring vaccination for close contacts of confirmed cases.

The UK also uses ring vaccination, in addition to contact and source tracing, case finding and local rash surveillance, he added.

Vaccines against smallpox and monkeypox

Dr Cherabuddi thinks more cases will occur in the United States, but it’s hard to predict how many.

He said he was concerned that with fewer people in the United States having been vaccinated against smallpox, it could put “a majority of the population under the age of 40 to 50 at risk of infection.”[…]”

Dr. Ryan also noted that disease prevention may not rely entirely on vaccines. He pointed out that “the protection afforded by prior smallpox vaccination also reduced[…]”

He said changes in agricultural, social and food storage practices may be needed to prevent further outbreaks. Officials hope to help communities understand how the virus spreads so they can treat it at its sources.

Dr Cherabuddi said DTM that monkeypox vaccines have also been approved for limited release.

“An approved monkeypox vaccine – MVA-BN – is not widely available. Tecovirimat (TPOXX), as an oral and IV drug, is approved in the United States for the treatment of smallpox and oral form in Europe to treat cowpox, monkeypox and smallpox. The FDA also approved brincidofovir (Tembexa) in 2021 to treat smallpox. These drugs are not widely available,” he said.