European and American health authorities identified several cases of monkeypox within the recent days. Since May 13th, at least 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been recorded in 12 countries, including the United States. This is a surprising outbreak of a disease that rarely appears outside of Africa. Additionally, most of the cases appear to be in young men.
Just what the world needs, the eruption of a rare virus, the monkeypox. Health officials around the world continue to monitor the spread of this virus, looking out for more cases. For the first time, monkeypox seems to be spreading among people who did not travel to Africa. Health officials do stress that the risk to the general population is low.
What Is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a zoonotic virus that transmits disease from animals to humans. More often than not, cases occur near tropical rainforests, in which animals that carry the virus live. Monkeypox tends to originate in rodents and primates, occasionally jumping to people who tend to live in West Africa, where the disease is endemic. Scientists first identified the illness in 1958, when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys. The name, monkeypox, stems from that research. The first documented human infection was in 1970, in a nine-year-old boy from a remote area of Congo.
What Are The Symptoms?
The symptoms of monkeypox in humans are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. Beginning with a fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion, monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell. Smallpox, on the other hand, does not cause lymph swelling. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox tends to be 7-14 days, but it can range from 5-21 days.
After the initial appearance of the fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face and spreading to other areas of the body. Lesions can progress though the following stages before falling off: macules, papules, vesicles, pustules, and scabs. The illness lasts between two to four weeks. According to research, monkeypox has been the cause of death in as many as one in 10 persons who contract the disease in Africa.
How Is The Disease Transmitted?
Transmission is limited among humans, but it can happen through close skin contact, bodily fluids, air droplets, and virus-contaminated objects. Of the recent cases in the U.K. and Canada, for example, most of them were among attendees of sexual health services at clinics in men who have sex with men. In regards to this trend, the regional emergencies director for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program cautioned, “This is new information we need to investigate properly to better understand the dynamic of local transmission in the U.K. and some other countries.”
How Many Cases Are There Typically?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are thousands of monkeypox infections in about a dozen African countries every year. About 6,000 cases annually are reported from the Congo, with an additional 3,000 cases coming from Nigeria. Because of patchy health monitoring systems, experts suggest that many infected people are not accounted for. Occasionally, there are isolated cases of monkeypox outside Africa, including the U.K. and the U.S. More often than not, these isolated cases result from travel to Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is common.
What Is Different About The New Cases?
To date, this is the first time monkeypox appears to spread among people who did not travel to Africa. Again, most of the cases involve men who engaged in sexual intercourse with other men, but health experts do not deem this the sole cause of transmission. Britain’s Health Security Agency said that all of its cases are not connected. This suggests that there are multiple chains of transmission in existence. Infections in Portugal, however, were discovered at a sexual health clinic, where men sought help for lesions on their genitals.
At the moment, it is possible that monkeypox spreads through sex, but this still remains unclear. In previous documentation, monkeypox has not reportedly spread through sex. It does, however, transmit through close contact with infected people, so transmission via sex is not out of the question. There are many unknowns in terms of dynamics of transmission and the epidemiology of the disease. Health experts need to fill in important gaps with therapeutics and diagnostics and reach conclusions that go beyond addressing the disease.