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Monkeypox is not a new disease and in some African countries it is endemic. However, the international outbreak that began in May 2022 prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency. Here are some of the important things to know about monkeypox.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox got its name in 1958, when it was detected in several laboratory monkeys. It is a zoonotic viral disease, which means that it can be transmitted from animals to humans. He can also change from human to human.
Human monkey pox was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a 9-month-old boy, in an area where smallpox (a close relative) had been eliminated in 1968.
Symptoms are similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, but are clinically less severe (smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980). In 2003, the first outbreak of Monkeypox outside of Africa was reported in the United States and was linked to contact with infected prairie dogs.
Despite its name, most animals that can contract the disease and then infect humans are rodents, such as Gambian giant rats, dormice or tree squirrels.
Where is it usually found?
Monkeypox is most commonly found in the rainforests of Central and West Africa, where animals that can carry the virus are indigenous and the disease is endemic. In these countries, it is increasingly appearing in urban areas.
Occasionally, it can also be found elsewhere, in people who might have become infected after visiting those countries.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually include fever, severe headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes, and skin rashes or sores.
The rash usually begins on the first or third day of the onset of fever. The lesions may be flat or slightly raised, filled with a clear or yellowish fluid, then crust over, dry out, and fall off.
The number of lesions varies, from a few to several thousand. The rash tends to appear on the face, the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. They can also be found in the mouth, genitals, and eyes.
Can people die from monkeypox?
In most cases, Monkeypox symptoms resolve on their own within weeks, but in three to six percent of reported cases in countries where it is endemic, they can lead to medical complications and even death. Newborns, children, and people with immune system deficiencies can be at risk for more severe symptoms and death from the disease.
In severe cases, symptoms include skin infections, pneumonia, confusion, and eye infections that can lead to loss of vision.
Many of the fatal cases are children or people who may have other health conditions.
How is monkeypox transmitted from animals to humans?
The virus can be transmitted to people when they come into physical contact with infected animals, including rodents and primates.
The risk of contracting it from animals can be reduced by avoiding unprotected contact with wild animals, especially those that are sick or dead (including contact with their flesh and blood).
It is crucial to emphasize that any food containing meat or animal parts must be cooked, especially in countries where Monkeypox is endemic.
How is it transmitted from person to person?
The virus is transmitted by physical contact with a person who has symptoms. Rashes, bodily fluids (such as fluids, pus, or blood from skin lesions), and scabs are especially contagious.
Ulcers, lesions or wounds can also be infectious since the virus can be transmitted through saliva. Contact with objects that have been in contact with the infected person – such as clothing, bedding, towels – or objects such as kitchen utensils can also represent a source of infection.
People with the disease are contagious as long as they have symptoms (usually within the first two to four weeks). It is unclear whether or not asymptomatic people can transmit the disease.
Who is likely to catch it?
Anyone who comes into physical contact with a person showing symptoms or an infected animal is at increased risk of infection.
Those who live with infected people have a high risk of infection. Health workers, by the very nature of their work, are at risk of exposure.
Children are often more likely to have severe symptoms than teenagers and adults.
The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to the fetus through the placenta or by contact of an infected parent with the child, during or after childbirth, by skin-to-skin contact.
How can I protect myself and others?
You can reduce the risk of contagion by limiting contact with people who suspect they have the disease or are confirmed cases.
Those who live with infected people should encourage them to self-isolate and, if possible, cover any tears in the skin (for example, by wearing clothes over the rash).
It is important to wear a face mask around the infected person, especially if they are coughing or have mouth sores, and when touching an infected person’s clothing or bedding. Avoid skin to skin contact by wearing disposable gloves.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after coming into contact with the infected person, their clothes (including sheets and towels) or after touching other objects or surfaces (such as utensils or dishes) that may have come into contact with rashes or respiratory secretions.
Clean and disinfect all contaminated surfaces and properly dispose of contaminated waste (such as dressings), and wash the infected person’s clothing, towels, linens and utensils with warm water and detergent.
What should I do if I suspect I have been infected?
If you think your symptoms might be related to Monkeypox, or if you have been in close contact with someone who has these symptoms, or if you suspect there is a possibility of being infected, tell your doctor immediately.
If possible, self-isolate and avoid close contact with other people. Wash your hands frequently and follow the steps listed above to protect others from contagion. Your doctor or other healthcare professional should take a sample for testing so you can get the proper care.
Symptoms usually last two to four weeks and go away on their own without treatment.
Is there a vaccine?
There are several vaccines, developed for the prevention of smallpox, which also provide some protection.
A smallpox vaccine (MVA-BN, also known as Imvamune, Imvanex or Jynneos) was recently developed and approved in 2019 for use in the prevention of Monkeypox, but is not yet widely available.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the vaccine manufacturer to improve access. People who have been vaccinated against smallpox in the past will also have some protection.
Is there a treatment?
Symptoms often go away on their own without requiring treatment. It is important to treat the rash by letting it dry if possible or covering it with a damp bandage if necessary to protect the area.
Avoid touching eye or mouth sores. Mouthwashes and eye drops can be used provided products containing cortisone are avoided.
For severe cases, an antiviral agent known as tecovirimat, which was developed for smallpox, was authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for Monkeypox in 2022, based on data from animal studies. and human. It is not yet widely available.
What do we know about the current epidemic?
As of May 2022, cases have been reported in more than 10 countries in non-endemic areas. Other cases are under investigation. You can find the latest information on case numbers from WHO here.
As of May 2022, there were no clear links between reported cases and travel from endemic countries, and no links to infected animals.
Studies are also underway in affected countries to determine the source of infection of each identified case, provide medical care and limit the spread.
WHO is working with all affected countries to improve surveillance and provide advice on how to stop the spread and care for infected people.
Is there a risk that this will turn into a larger epidemic?
Monkeypox is generally not considered highly contagious because it requires close physical contact with an infectious person (eg, skin-to-skin). The risk to the public is low.
However, WHO is responding to this outbreak as a high priority to prevent further spread; For many years Monkeypox was considered a priority pathogen. Identifying how the virus spreads and protecting more people from infection is a priority for the UN agency
Raising awareness of this new situation will help stop transmission.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?
The disease can be passed from person to person through close physical contact, including sexual contact. However, it is not currently known whether it can be spread sexually (for example, through semen or vaginal secretions). However, direct skin-to-skin contact with lesions during sexual activity can spread the virus.
Rashes can sometimes appear on the genitals and in the mouth, which probably contributes to transmission during sexual contact. Therefore, mouth-to-skin contact could cause transmission when there are lesions in any of these parts.
Rashes can also resemble certain sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and syphilis. This may explain why many of the cases in the current outbreak have been identified among men seeking care at sexual health clinics.
The risk of being infected is not limited to sexually active people or men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close physical contact with an infectious person is at risk.
WHO response to stigmatizing messages circulating online?
Messages stigmatizing certain groups of people around this epidemic have circulated: the WHO has clearly indicated that this is unacceptable.
Anyone who has close physical contact of any kind with someone who has Monkeypox is at risk, regardless of who they are, what they do, who they choose to have sex with, or any other factor.
The WHO recalls that it is inadmissible to stigmatize people because of an illness.
Anyone who has been infected or who helps care for sick people needs support: stigma is likely to only make things worse and slow efforts to end the epidemic.