Monkeypox: What we know about rare viruses as more cases are confirmed around the world

Monkeypox is spreading across the world, with cases now being reported in Australia, Canada, Spain and elsewhere. More than half a dozen infections have been confirmed in the UK.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said it is currently investigating links between the UK patients, most of whom are believed to have contracted the disease in London, despite contracting the virus mainly from wildlife in areas of West Africa rather than from all of the sufferers had traveled recently.

As a typically mild, self-limiting disease that does not spread easily, the risk to the general population is low, UKHSA said.

British healthcare workers are now being offered smallpox vaccines as a protective measure. There is currently no specific monkeypox vaccine.

But the agency is advising the public — particularly gay and bisexual men, as all four of Monday’s patients were homosexual and there is a possibility of sexual transmission — to be alert for any unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, particularly their genitals.

So what exactly is monkeypox and how dangerous is it to the public?

Where does monkey pox come from?

The World Health Organization (WHO) traced the disease to the tropical rainforests of central and western Africa and defined it as a viral zoonotic (ie, animal-to-human transmissible) disease similar to smallpox, which was itself eradicated in 1980.

The first recorded case of monkeypox was identified in 1970 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While it would originally have been transmitted to humans through contact with the blood or body fluids of contaminated primates (or rodents such as tree squirrels and Gambian rats), it is an infectious disease and is therefore much more likely to be transmitted by fellow humans who are suffering.

What are the symptoms?

The disease has an incubation period of six to 16 days. In the initial phase, patients initially suffer from fever, headaches, swelling, back pain, sore muscles and general listlessness.

Once the fever breaks, the sufferer’s body is faced with a rash, with a rash spreading across the face, followed by the rest of the body, most commonly the palms and soles of the feet.

The blemishes progress from lesions to crusted blisters, which can then take three weeks to heal and go away.

The virus can be difficult to diagnose without the help of laboratory analyzes due to its superficial resemblance to other diseases that cause rashes, such as chickenpox, measles, scabies, and syphilis.

How dangerous is it?

dr Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA, said monkeypox “does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low”.

Although this strain of the orthopoxvirus is much milder than smallpox, deaths have been recorded, particularly among young people. The WHO puts the mortality rate at less than 10 percent.

Nine cases of monkeypox were reported in the UK this month


The largest-ever outbreak in Nigeria in 2017 identified 172 suspected cases of monkeypox and reported 61 confirmed cases nationwide. 75 percent of those affected were male and between 21 and 40 years old.

No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available, but pre-existing smallpox has been shown to be 85 percent effective in controlling the disease.

Professor Jimmy Whitworth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stressed that while monkeypox “is usually mild… it is a sensible precaution that individuals who may have been exposed to these recent cases be traced and followed up”. .

How many cases have been detected in the UK?

The UK is one of only a few countries outside of Africa to have been diagnosed with monkeypox.

The first four infections were reported in the UK in 2018 and 2019. There was a second outbreak in 2021 where three family members were diagnosed with the virus after a trip to Nigeria.

The cases detected in May bring the current total in the UK to 16 from seven.

Nine cases were confirmed in the recent outbreak. Monkeypox: What we know about rare viruses as more cases are confirmed around the world

Bobby Allyn

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