Explainer: How concerned should we be about monkeypox?


A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification on day four of rash development in 1968.

A section of skin tissue taken from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with the monkeypox virus is seen at 50x magnification on the fourth day of the rash’s development in 1968. (Reuters)

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NEW YORK — Global health officials have sounded the alarm in Europe and elsewhere over rising cases of monkeypox, a type of viral infection more common in west and central Africa.

As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox, which are non-endemic to the virus, had been reported from 12 member states, according to the World Health Organization.

The UN agency said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries that don’t typically experience the disease and will provide further guidance and recommendations for countries to stem the spread of monkeypox in the coming days give.

Here is what is known about the current outbreak and relative risk of monkeypox:

How dangerous is it?

The risk to the general public is currently low, a US health official told reporters at a briefing on Friday.

Monkeypox is a virus that can cause symptoms such as fever and pain, and has a characteristic bumpy rash.

It is related to smallpox but is usually milder, particularly the West African strain of the virus, identified in a case in the US, which has a mortality rate of about 1%. Most people made a full recovery in two to four weeks, the official said.

The virus is not as easily transmitted as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts believe the current monkeypox outbreak is being spread through close, intimate skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an active rash. This should make it easier to contain the spread once infections have been identified, experts said.

“COVID is spread through the respiratory tract and is highly contagious. This does not appear to be the case with monkeypox,” said Dr. Martin Hirsch of Massachusetts General Hospital.

“What appears to be happening now is that it has entered the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is spreading as well as sexually transmitted infections, which has increased its transmission around the world,” said WHO official David Heymann . an infectious disease specialist, Reuters said.

What has health experts worried?

The recent outbreaks reported so far are atypical, according to the WHO, as they occur in countries where the virus does not regularly circulate. Scientists are trying to understand where the current cases are coming from and if anything about the virus has changed.

Most of the cases reported so far have been detected in the UK, Spain and Portugal. There have also been cases in Canada and Australia, and a single case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Boston, with public health officials saying more cases are likely to emerge in the United States.

WHO officials have expressed concern that more infections could emerge as people gather for festivals, parties and public holidays in Europe and elsewhere in the coming summer months.

How can people protect themselves from infection?

The UK has started vaccinating medical workers who may be at risk while caring for patients with the smallpox vaccine, which can also protect against monkeypox. The US government says it has enough smallpox vaccine in its Strategic National Stockpile to vaccinate the entire US population.

There are antiviral drugs for smallpox that could also be used to treat monkeypox in certain circumstances, a US Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said in a statement.

More broadly, health officials say people should avoid close personal contact with someone who has a sudden illness or is otherwise unwell. People who suspect they have monkeypox should isolate themselves and see a doctor.

What could be behind the spike in the cases?

“Viruses are nothing new and are not expected,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Rasmussen said a number of factors, including increases in global travel and climate change, have accelerated the emergence and spread of viruses. The world is also more alert to new outbreaks of any kind amid the COVID pandemic, she said.

The WHO expects more cases of monkeypox worldwide.


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