LONDON (AP) — Health authorities in Europe, North America, Israel and Australia have identified more than 100 cases of monkeypox in recent days.
Officials around the world are monitoring more cases as, for the first time, the rare disease appears to be spreading among people who have not been to Africa, where monkeypox is endemic. They stress, however, that the risk to the general population is low.
WHAT IS MONKEYPOX?
Monkeypox is a virus that comes from wild animals like rodents and primates, and sometimes jumps to humans. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox.
Most human cases have occurred in central and western Africa, and outbreaks have been relatively limited.
The disease was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys – hence the name monkeypox. The first known human infection dates back to 1970, in a young boy in a remote region of Congo.
WHAT CAUSED THIS LATEST OUTBREAK?
Health officials are still investigating, but a top adviser to the World Health Organization said this week the leading theory is monkeypox likely spread after sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe. .
Dr David Heymann, who chairs the WHO’s expert advisory group on infectious hazards, said monkeypox can be spread through close contact with someone already infected with the disease, and that ” it appears that sexual contact has now amplified this transmission.”
Authorities in countries including Britain, Spain, Germany and Portugal say most known cases in Europe are of men who have sex with men, but experts point out that anyone can becoming infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothes or bedding.
Scientists say it will be difficult to determine whether the spread is due to sex or just close contact.
WHY ARE MOST CURRENT INFECTIONS OUTSIDE OF AFRICA IN MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN?
It’s not clear, but the disease is no more likely to infect gay and bisexual men than anyone else.
“It may just be bad luck that (monkeypox) got to this particular community first,” said Dr Jake Dunning, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Oxford who is also involved in the handling cases in London. “It’s just that they form a community and by having sex with each other, that’s how it spreads,” he said.
Other experts warn the disease could spread more widely if steps are not taken to stop the outbreak.
“Infectious diseases do not care about borders or social networks. Certain groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, but the current risk of monkeypox exposure is by no means exclusive to men who have sex with men, said CDC’s Dr. John Brooks.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW ARE IT TREATED?
Most patients with monkeypox only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe illness may develop a rash and sores on the face and hands that may spread to other parts of the body.
Most people recover in around two to four weeks without needing hospitalization, monkeypox can be fatal in up to 6% of cases and is thought to be more severe in children.
Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox, and antiviral drugs are also being developed.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has recommended that all suspected cases be isolated and high-risk contacts offered a smallpox vaccine. The UK is offering high-risk contacts the smallpox vaccine and recommending anyone who may be infected self-isolate until they recover.
The United States has 1,000 doses of an approved vaccine for the prevention of monkeypox and smallpox, as well as more than 100 million doses of an older-generation smallpox vaccine in government stockpile, officials said. .
HOW WORRY IS THIS OUTBREAK?
Any outbreak of an emerging virus is cause for concern, but most cases have been mild and there have been no deaths so far.
Monkeypox also requires very close contact to spread, so it’s unlikely to cause large waves of illnesses like COVID-19, which can be transmitted through the air from people with no symptoms.
Yet the UK Health Security Agency has said it expects to see new infections “daily” and the WHO’s director for Europe has warned that the summer season of festivals and celebrations could spread the virus. sickness. Many identified cases have no connection to previous infections, suggesting the virus is already spreading widely.
On Tuesday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak “is not the start of a new pandemic” but must be contained quickly.
HOW MANY CASES OF MONKEYPOX ARE THERE USUALLY?
The World Health Organization estimates that there are thousands of monkeypox infections in a dozen African countries each year. Most are in Congo, which reports around 6,000 cases per year, and Nigeria, with around 3,000 cases per year.
In the past, isolated cases of monkeypox have been spotted outside of Africa, including in the United States and Great Britain. The cases were mostly linked to travel to Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.
In 2003, 47 people in six US states had confirmed or probable cases. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that were housed near small mammals imported from Ghana.