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What we know about the smallpox-like virus discovered in UK called ‘monkeypox’


A case of monkeypox, a rare viral infection related to smallpox, has been confirmed in a person who recently flew in from Nigeria, according to UK health officials.

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the patient is receiving specialist care in an isolation unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ infectious disease hospital unit in London.

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

Symptoms of Monkeypox

Monkeypox is a close relative of smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980, but it is less contagious, has milder symptoms, and is less lethal.

The illness lasts two to four weeks on average, with symptoms appearing five to 21 days after infection.

Fever, headaches, muscle aches, backache, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes are common symptoms of monkeypox.

According to the World Health Organization, the latter symptom is typically what helps doctors distinguish monkeypox from chickenpox or smallpox (WHO).

The major feature of monkeypox, a terrible rash, develops one to three days after you have a fever, generally starting on the face and spreading to other parts of the body.

Lesions can range in number from a few to thousands.

The lesions will progress from macules (flat lesions) to papules (raised lesions), vesicles (fluid-filled lesions), pustules (pus-filled lesions), scabs (crusty lesions), and lastly scabs (crusty lesions) before eventually falling off.

A 7-year-old Zairian girl with monkeypox in the acute stage, day 7 of rash, and monkeypox in a 3-year-old Zairian boy with rash in the scabbing stage, DRC, 1970-1977
– WHO /Mark V. Szczeniowski

Why is it called monkeypox?

Monkeypox virus is a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the Poxviridae family. Two outbreaks of a pox-like disease in lab monkeys kept for research led to its discovery in 1958, hence the name.

However, outbreaks may not be caused by monkeys, and the natural reservoir of monkeypox is unknown, though the WHO believes rodents are the most likely.

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

Where is monkeypox found?

Human monkeypox outbreaks are most common in Central and West Africa’s tropical rainforests, and it is rarely observed in Europe.

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

Since then, instances have been documented in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa was connected to the importation of diseased monkeys in the United States in 2003. (CDC).

According to Europe’s own health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), two travellers from the United Kingdom, one from Israel, and one from Singapore, all with travel history in Nigeria, were diagnosed with monkeypox following a significant outbreak there in 2018 and 2019.

How do you catch monkeypox?

You can get the virus from an infected animal’s bite or scratch, eating bush meat, coming into direct contact with an infected person, or touching contaminated bedding or clothing.

The virus enters the body via skin lesions, respiratory tract infections, or mucous membrane infections (the eyes, nose, or mouth).

Human-to-human transmission is assumed to happen predominantly by large respiratory droplets that can only reach a few feet, necessitating prolonged face-to-face contact.

A child affected by monkeypox receives treatment at a centre of the NGO Doctors Without Borders, in Zomea Kaka, in the Central African Republic, October 18, 2018.

Should I be worried?

In a statement confirming the incidence, the UKHSA stated that monkeypox “is usually a mild self-limiting infection and most patients recover within a few weeks.”

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

Monkeypox, despite having milder symptoms than smallpox, has been reported to cause death in as many as 11% of infected patients, compared to roughly 30% for smallpox, according to the WHO.

Children and young adults have a greater mortality rate, and immunocompromised people are more vulnerable to severe sickness.

Treatment and prevention

Monkeypox does not presently have a specific treatment, and it normally goes away on its own.

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

Antivirals are also being developed, and a newer vaccine created 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).


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