What is monkeypox, how is it transmitted and how bad is it?

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Gulf Today/ Agencies

Several cases of monkeypox have been detected in North America and Europe since early May, raising concerns about the spread of the disease, which is endemic in parts of Africa.

Most people recover within a few weeks, and monkeypox has only been fatal in rare cases.

There have been thousands of human infections in parts of West and Central Africa in recent years, but it is rare in Europe and North America.

France declared its first case on Friday.  

So what is monkeypox?   

Monkeypox is a virus transmitted to humans by animals, with symptoms very similar to smallpox but clinically less severe.

In Africa, monkeypox has been found in many animals including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice as well as different species of monkeys and others.

The World Health Organization, however, says human-to-human transmission is limited.

Symptoms of monkeypox in humans include lesions, rashes on the face, palms or soles of the feet, scabs, fever, bodyaches and chills.

Human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a nine-year-old boy in an area where smallpox had been eliminated two years earlier.

Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, according to WHO.

In the spring of 2003, cases were also confirmed in the United States — the first time the disease surfaced outside Africa.

How is it transmitted?   

Transmission from animals to humans can occur through direct contact with blood, body fluids or lesions of the skin or mucous membranes of infected animals.

Secondary or human-to-human transmission can occur through close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person, or recently contaminated objects.

Transmission by respiratory droplet particles typically requires prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts healthcare workers, family members, and other close contacts of infected people at increased risk.

On Monday, the WHO reported that some of Britain’s recently confirmed cases have appeared in gay men.
But experts have warned it was too premature to establish a link.

“Although the current cluster of cases involve men who have sex with men, it is probably too early to tell conclusions about the mode of transmission or assuming that sexual activity was necessary for transmission, unless we have clear epidemiological data and analysis,” Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, told the Science Media Center (SMC) website.  

How bad is it?

This is usually a self-limiting disease with symptoms lasting two to four weeks.

Severe cases occur most often in children and are related to the extent of exposure to the virus, the patient’s medical condition and the nature of the complications.

The mortality rate per case varied but remained between 0 and 10% in all recorded infections.
“The West African strain, present in the UK cases, is estimated to have a case fatality rate of around 1%.

There is also a strain found in the Congo region which can be fatal in as many as 10 percent of cases, but the UK cases do not have this strain,” Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told SMC.

Is there a treatment?

There is no specific treatment, but smallpox vaccination has been shown to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox.

However, access to smallpox vaccines is now limited as the disease has been eradicated globally.

“The good news is that the smallpox vaccine works well against monkeypox.

The bad news is that most people under 45 don’t have the smallpox vaccine,” said epidemiologist and health economist Eric FeiglDing.  

In Abu Dhabi, the Department of Health called upon all health facilities operating in the emirate to investigate monkeypox disease, and the need to report any suspected, potential or confirmed case through the electronic reporting system for communicable diseases.

In Dubai, in accordance with the recommendations of the WHO, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) issued a circular to all health professionals and facilities operating within the DHA’s jurisdiction to promote epidemiological investigation of the disease.

The circular obligated all concerned authorities in the emirate to make all efforts to early detect and investigate the disease early, to limit its spread.

The DHA also called on all parties to fully comply with what was mentioned in the circular to avoid any legal accountability.

It is noteworthy that monkeypox is a kind of smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, and the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first monkeypox vaccine in 2019.

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