Monkeypox outbreak: What we know so far

Monkeypox outbreak: What we know so far

Just when the world thought it was done with the worst of COVID did another virus outbreak alarm scientists.

Cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the United States, Canada and Australia.

What worries experts is the unusual spread of the disease. Monkeypox virus usually spreads in Africa, with occasional isolated cases associated with travel abroad. But according to the European Union’s disease control agency, recent cases in Europe appear to have spread from person to person, for the first time, without any direct link to Africa. Moreover, health authorities in a number of countries have noted that the prevalence of the disease appears to be concentrated among gay and bisexual men.

Politico is looking at what we know so far.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox.

Symptoms of monkeypox usually begin with a fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and a headache. Usually, within one to three days after the fever begins, a characteristic bumpy rash — often beginning on the face — begins and spreads, including over the hands and feet.

However, monkeypox is less deadly than smallpox. The West African type discovered by scientists in Europe has a mortality rate of just under 4 percent. So far, no deaths have been reported in the recent European outbreak, but monkeypox can leave patients in bed for days at a time. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks.

Where are the cases?

In the latest outbreak, the UK became the first country to discover a case of monkeypox on May 6. Since then, nine people have been found to have the disease in the country. The UK’s Health Security Agency said these cases were mostly among gay or bisexual men. The virus has also been found elsewhere in Europe. Portugal has reported 14 cases of monkeypox, and Spain has confirmed 30. Meanwhile, Italy has three confirmed cases, Belgium two Sweden has only one confirmed case so far.

Public Health Canada has confirmed two cases in the country. A case has also been reported in the United States, where the man recently traveled to Canada, while other possible cases are being monitored. While Australia has reported one confirmed case and another suspected case.

Why do experts care?

The concern, expressed by virologist Marion Koopmans, is the fact that monkeypox cases have been detected in several different countries, since monkeypox is not usually contagious. Koopmans, Head of Virology at Erasmus MC, chirp Thursday said the outbreak was “beginning to be alarming”. In the past, she said, occasional imported cases did not continue to spread. “In this case, new cases were detected in different countries,” she said. “This is very unusual.”

Koopmans said it could be that monkeypox was becoming more transmissible and there was an “urgent need” for more information.

More broadly, the imported cases “indicate a greater burden of disease elsewhere in the world,” said Michael Head, senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton.

“Maybe in a post-pandemic environment, we should pay more attention to understanding the local and global impacts of Lhasa and Jedi monkeys, Ebola and other rare and dangerous pathogens,” he said.

What do the experts recommend?

The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention is asking public health groups to raise awareness of monkeypox in the communities of people who identify as MSM, have multiple sexual partners or have casual sex.

The president of the University of Southampton said earlier this week, commenting on UK cases, that it was not known that monkeypox virus was sexually transmitted. “Close contact here during sexual or intimate activity, including prolonged skin-to-skin contact, may be the main factor during transmission,” he explained.

Jamie Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the UK outbreak was “unprecedented”. However, he said that if cases are identified, isolated and treated as well as close contacts identified and monitored, they can be “quickly controlled”.

In countries where smallpox vaccines are available, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) recommends considering high-risk contacts, after weighing the risks and benefits. If antiviral drugs are available, treatment of severe cases should be considered, the agency said. In the UK, smallpox vaccines are offered to some health care workers, as well as other people at risk. In Spain, newspaper El País reported that the country’s health ministry is preparing to purchase thousands of doses to help contain the outbreak.

This article has been updated.

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2022-05-20 10:17:55

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