Monkeypox: A Guide

Monkeypox is generally considered a rare disease that mainly occurs in central and western Africa. However, a growing number of monkeypox cases have been reported since late April of 2022 in several European countries, the UK, Canada, and more recently the United States too.

For most, this is an eerily similar picture; at the end of 2019 a different obscure virus has spurred a worldwide pandemic and uprooted the lives of billions. So, understandably, you may be concerned. 

However, scientists point out that monkeypox is different from COVID-19 in several key ways, and the chances of it causing a full-blown pandemic are extremely low.

Monkeypox med researchers

So what makes this virus so different from the novel coronavirus? Well, the short answer is - almost everything, apart from the fact that both are viral diseases. Let’s go through the specifics of monkeypox and what can be done to limit this rare viral ailment.

What is monkeypox?

Like COVID-19, monkeypox is a so-called zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans. However, unlike the novel coronavirus, human-to-human transmission of monkeypox is considered rather rare, and most people catch this virus after international travel, especially after spending time around tropical forests.

When a person is infected with the monkeypox virus, they can manifest symptoms in the following 5-21 days. Swollen lymph nodes, a fever, headaches, and a rash that looks like white and red blisters on the face and extremities are all common symptoms. The majority of these cases are mild and resolve on their own in 2-4 weeks. 

Though serious cases are rare, monkeypox can cause rather severe complications, such as:

  • Sepsis
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis - inflammation in the brain
  • An infection of the cornea (could lead to vision loss)
  • Loss of large areas of skin.

Between 1 and 10 percent of monkeypox cases are fatal.

What causes monkeypox?

The monkeypox virus, a distant cousin of the smallpox virus from the orthopoxvirus genus, causes this viral illness. The first case of monkeypox was reported in 1958 in monkeys used for research, but it was not until 1970 when an outbreak of the virus was identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that researchers found out that the virus can also infect humans.

How is monkeypox transmitted?

Monkeypox hand washing

One of the key differences between monkeypox and other familiar viral diseases like the flu or COVID-19 is that it spreads through a community much slower. It can only be transmitted through close skin contact, bodily fluids, blood, bites, and scratches of animals, and touching contaminated objects.

Since monkeypox causes a characteristic rash, it’s generally rather easy to detect and isolate infected individuals from the public. “People become aware there is monkeypox in their community,” stated Dr. Richard Martinello, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert to Huffington Post. That’s why the current emergence of monkeypox across various continents in separate individuals is rather perplexing, and scientists are yet to explain how the monkeypox virus has managed to spread so far beyond its usual “habitat.”

How is it possible to limit the spread of monkeypox in the future?

Although monkeypox is not considered widespread yet, it’s still useful to know what you can do to avoid this disease - just in case. One of the best things you can do is be aware of the rash, especially if you are platting to travel abroad or know of someone who has been to one of the countries with reported cases of monkeypox. You can find pictures of what the rash looks like, as well as further information about the virus on the CDC resource here: CDC About Monkeypox.

In addition to general awareness, all-too-familiar hygienic practices like frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer also apply here. Likewise, it’s important to avoid contact with potentially infected animals and objects that could have been in contact with sick animals. 

Last but not least, there is research that smallpox vaccines can protect from monkeypox. As previously stated, monkeypox is related to smallpox, a once very serious disease that has been eradicated worldwide since 1977 thanks to worldwide vaccination efforts. Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, clinical associate professor in infectious diseases at the University of Florida, stated to Medical News Today that the vaccine isn’t currently available to the public in the USA and many places worldwide.

“Monkeypox is a very different virus than COVID-19,”  Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, stated to Huffington Post. “It does not have pandemic potential, and we have countermeasures like the smallpox vaccine that are able to halt outbreaks.”

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H/T: Huffington Post, Medical News Today, Healthline, CDC

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