How worried should we be about the monkeypox virus found in the UK?

UK health authorities have confirmed a case of monkeypox – a rare viral infection linked to smallpox – in a person who recently flew in from Nigeria.

The patient is receiving specialist care in an isolation unit at Guy’s and St Thomas Infectious Diseases Hospital Unit in London, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced on Saturday.

The UKHSA did not release any details of the person’s gender or age, but said it was working to identify anyone who had close contact with the infected patient, including people who had traveled on the same flight.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox, a disease that was eradicated in 1980, but is less transmissible, causes milder symptoms and is less deadly.

The illness usually lasts two to four weeks and symptoms may appear five to 21 days after infection.

Symptoms of monkeypox usually begin with a mixture of fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes.

This last symptom is usually what helps doctors distinguish monkeypox from chickenpox or smallpox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Once you have a fever, the main characteristic of monkeypox, a nasty rash, tends to develop one to three days later, often starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body.

The number of lesions can vary from a few to thousands.

The lesions will go through an ugly process of maturing, from macules (flat lesions) to papules (raised lesions), to vesicles (fluid filled lesions), then to pustules (pus filled lesions) and finally to scabs (crusty lesions) before falling off.

Why is it called monkeypox?

Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family. It was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in laboratory monkeys kept for research, hence its name.

But monkeys may not be responsible for the outbreaks, and the natural reservoir of monkeypox remains unknown, although the WHO says rodents are most likely.

“In Africa, evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in many animals including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, poached Gambian rats, dormice, different species of monkeys,” says the United Nations health agency.

Where is monkeypox found?

Human monkeypox mainly causes epidemics in tropical rainforest regions of central and western Africa and is not usually seen in Europe.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recorded the first human case of monkeypox in 1970.

Since then, cases 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.

The first outbreak of monkeypox reported outside of Africa was linked to a 2003 importation of infected mammals into the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More recently, in 2018 and 2019, two travelers from the UK, one from Israel and one from Singapore, all with travel history to Nigeria, were diagnosed with monkeypox following a major outbreak there. , according to Europe’s own health agency, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC),

How do you catch monkey pox?

You can catch the virus through a bite or scratch from an infected animal, eating bush meat, being in direct contact with an infected human, or touching contaminated bedding or clothing.

The virus enters the body through skin lesions, the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth).

Human-to-human transmission is believed to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets, which generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact would be required.

Should I be worried?

Monkeypox “is usually a mild, self-limiting illness and most people recover within weeks,” the UKHSA said in its statement confirming the case.

“It is important to emphasize that monkeypox does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low,” said Dr. Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the agency.

Although its symptoms are milder than those of smallpox, monkeypox has been shown to cause the death of 11% of infected patients, compared to around 30% for smallpox, according to the WHO.

Mortality is higher in children and young adults, and immunocompromised people are particularly at risk of severe disease.

Treatment and prevention

There is currently no specific treatment recommended for monkeypox, and it usually goes away on its own.

Smallpox vaccination is thought to be very effective in preventing monkeypox, but because smallpox was declared eradicated more than 40 years ago, first-generation smallpox vaccines are no longer available to the general public.

A more recent vaccine developed by Bavarian Nordic for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox has been approved in the European Union, the United States and Canada (under the trade names Imvanex, Jynneos and Imvamune), and antivirals are also in development.

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