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Outbreak: Monkeypox is spreading around the world

On the heels of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a zoonotic virus seems to be spreading across the globe.

Since early May, Monkeypox has been making headway across at least 30 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Australia, and the United States. The number of cases has increased to more than 550 worldwide as of June 1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the U.K., nearly 200 monkeypox cases have been confirmed since May 7. During a press conference on May 17, WHO officials said that these are mostly separate occurrences except for “a family cluster with two confirmed cases and one probable case.”

Recently, Canada and the U.S. joined these nations in tracking and tracing the virus.

As of May 19, Canada confirmed two monkeypox cases and said it was investigating more than a dozen suspected cases. The Massachusetts Department of Health also announced a single case in an individual who had recently been in Canada. Several Canadian cases have been linked to this person.

The WHO officials have been tracking monkeypox’s path through Europe and North America for several weeks. However, with the data available so far, they do not know long the virus has been spreading.

On May 30, the agency said during a public webinar that while it cannot rule out the risk, it is unlikely the outbreak will turn into a global pandemic.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a zoonotic virus, which transmits disease from animals to humans. Cases typically occur near tropical rainforests, where animals that carry the virus live.

The monkeypox virus is a member of the orthopoxvirus family. It also has two distinct genetic strains or clades: the Central African (Congo Basin) clade and the West African clade. The Congo Basin clade is known to spread more easily and cause more severe symptoms.

Monkeypox naturally occurs in Africa, especially in west and central African nations. Cases in the U.S. are rare and associated with international travel from places where the disease is more common.

What are the symptoms?

Monkeypox symptoms and signs include headache, skin rash, fever, body aches, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. It produces symptoms similar to smallpox, but milder.

The time from infection to the onset of symptoms, which is referred to as the incubation period, can range from five to 21 days. The illness typically resolves within two to four weeks.

Severe cases are more common among people with underlying immune deficiencies and young children. In recent times, the case fatality ratio of monkeypox is around 3-6%.

How is it transmitted?

Transmission of the monkeypox virus among humans is limited, but it can happen through close skin contact, air droplets, bodily fluids, and virus-contaminated objects.

Most of the recent cases of monkeypox in the U.K. and Canada have been reported among attendees of sexual health services at health clinics in men who have sex with men.

Regarding this trend, Dr. I. Socé Fall, the regional emergencies director for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, cautioned:

“This is new information we need to investigate properly to understand better the dynamic of local transmission in the U.K. and some other countries.”

Can vaccines curtail the spread?

“Being aware of the rash of monkeypox which presents as vesicles is very important. Additional measures include vigilance in those who have traveled in the past 30 days to countries that have reported cases of monkeypox and who have contact with a person who is confirmed or suspected of monkeypox.” — Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi

Dr. Cherabuddi mentioned that smallpox vaccinations offer some protection against monkeypox. He said the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently employing ring vaccination for close contacts of confirmed cases.

The U.K. is also using ring vaccination, in addition to contact and source tracing, case searching, and local rash-illness surveillance, he added

How dangerous is it?

Monkeypox cases can occasionally be more severe, with some deaths having been reported in West Africa.

However, health authorities stress that we are not on the brink of a serious outbreak and the risks to the general public remain very low.

“While investigations remain ongoing to determine the source of infection, it is important to emphasize it does not spread easily between people and requires close personal contact with an infected symptomatic person,” -Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA

Health authorities in the U.K., U.S. and Canada urged people who experience new rashes or are concerned about monkeypox to contact their health-care provider.

The UKHSA added that it is reaching out and providing advice to any potential close contacts of cases and health-care worker who may have come into contact with infected patients.


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