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Volume IconWhat is monkeypox?

The threat of another virus is looming large over Europe. Over 170 cases of monkeypox have been reported in Europe and in four other countries outside the union. India too is on the guard

Monkeypox symptoms

According to the World Health Organization, the name monkeypox originated from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958. Human monkeypox was first discovered in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo-- where smallpox was eliminated in 1968.

Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries. In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was in the United States and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs.

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These pets had been housed with Gambian pouched rats and dormice that had been imported into the country from Ghana. This outbreak led to over 70 cases of monkeypox in the US.

WHO says that monkeypox is a viral zoonosis -- a virus transmitted to humans from animals-- with symptoms very similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe.

Evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in animals including squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice, different species of monkeys and others. 

Now, fresh cases of monkeypox have been found in Europe and other parts of the world. 16 countries, mostly in Europe, along with the US, Canada and Australia and Israel have reported outbreaks of the viral disease, with more than 170 confirmed infections. This is the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Africa, where it is endemic. 

Britain has reported the most cases at 56, followed by 41 in Spain and 37 in Portugal. Only 10 cases have been detected outside of Europe so far. 

So far, reported cases have no established travel links to endemic areas. Based on the available information, cases have mainly but not exclusively been found among men who have had sex with men (MSM), the World Health Organization has said.

Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with symptoms lasting from two to four weeks. Severe cases occur more commonly among children and are related to the extent of virus exposure, patient health status and nature of complications.

The case fatality ratio of monkeypox has historically ranged from 0 to 11 % in the general population and has been higher among young children. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3–6%.

Animal-to-human transmission can occur from direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. 

Human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects.

Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts health workers, household members and other close contacts of active cases at greater risk.

The illness begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

Within one to three days after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. The rash tends to be more concentrated on the face and extremities

Monkeypox symptoms often subside on their own, without the need for treatment. It is important to take care of the rash by letting it dry if possible or covering it with a moist dressing to protect the area if needed. Smallpox vaccine and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used to control a monkeypox outbreak.

An antiviral that was developed to treat smallpox was also approved for the treatment of monkeypox in January 2022.

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First Published: May 25 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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