In May 2022, the monkeypox virus began to spread worldwide, which usually does not go beyond endemic countries. How is this disease transmitted, the symptoms, and is there a vaccine against it?
Where was the monkeypox virus found?
In Europe, the first human infection with monkeypox was detected in the UK on 7 May. The infected person recently returned from Nigeria, which is characterized by the spread of this virus. It is the countries of West and Central Africa that are the centers of its distribution. It was identified in 1958 and was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
By May 20, there were already 20 cases in the UK. Then the virus was found in Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, and other countries. The virus has also been identified in cases in the United States, Australia, and Canada, where tests are being carried out on 13 people who are believed to be infected.
Some of the cases identified in the UK were not directly related to travel to Africa, meaning transmission of the virus had already occurred within the country. The UK Department of Health notes that a significant proportion of the identified cases were among gay and bisexual men, and the department urges this part of society to be especially on the alert. Until now, it was not believed that the virus was transmitted sexually, but the department draws attention. It is transmitted through close contact with a sick person, as well as through contact with the clothes or bedding of an infected person, the materials indicate. “The virus does not usually spread easily between people. The risk to the population remains low,” the government said in a statement.
How is the virus transmitted?
The so-called natural reservoir of the virus is monkeys and some rodents (African squirrels, prairie dogs), from which the virus can be transmitted to humans. Experts note that outbreaks of monkeypox have occurred before, they occurred mainly in endemic countries, but cases of importation into Europe were also known and occurred annually.
The type of transmission of the virus is similar to the type of transmission of smallpox – close person-to-person contact, you can also become infected by contact with human body fluids, by contact with secretions from the patient’s pustules, and by interacting with his personal belongings. The rate of spread of this infection is much lower than with coronavirus, which is transmitted by airborne droplets.
The possibility of airborne transmission of the monkeypox virus is currently being discussed, but it is currently unknown how effectively it is implemented.
Experts note that monkeypox, like other infectious diseases, has an incubation period. The 92 cases identified are the result of infection about a week old: thus, it can be argued that there are others infected, and an increase in the number of cases is expected, regardless of the efforts of doctors.
The fact that there are more gay and bisexual men among monkeys with smallpox than statistically expected may be because sexual contacts between people from this group are more traumatic and often lead to damage to the mucous membrane and skin, which transmission occurs. virus, says Severinov. According to him, this may simply be an accident, since there are not very many infected yet. “With heterosexual contacts, the same thing will happen if there are cracks or damage to the outer integument and mucous membranes,” the expert explains. The WHO also notes that the reported cases are mostly, but not exclusively, among men who have sex with men.
How the disease progresses
The initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue. A rash may develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals. The rash changes go through different stages and can look like chicken pox or syphilis rash before finally forming a scab that later falls off, the UK Department of Health describes symptoms.
According to WHO, the incubation period is from six to 13 days but can be from five to 21 days. Two periods can be distinguished during the disease. The first lasts up to five days and is characterized by fever, severe headache, swollen lymph nodes, back pain, myalgia, and fatigue. The abnormal size of the lymph nodes is a characteristic feature of this particular type of smallpox, with chickenpox, measles, and smallpox this is not the case. One to three days after the onset of the fever, skin rashes begin.
The rash tends to be more concentrated on the face and limbs than on the trunk. It develops in succession from macules (lesions with a flat base) to papules (slightly raised firm lesions), vesicles (lesions filled with clear fluid), pustules (lesions filled with yellowish fluid), and crusts that dry up and fall off. The number of lesions ranges from several tens to several thousand. In severe cases, the lesions may coalesce until large areas of skin are shed.
Monkeypox, the WHO continues, is usually a self-limiting disease with symptoms lasting two to four weeks. Severe cases are more common among children and are related to the degree of exposure to the virus, the health of the patient, and the nature of the complications. The case fatality rate for monkeypox has historically ranged from 0 to 11% in the general population and has been higher among young children. Recently, the case fatality rate has been around 3–6%.
Is there a monkeypox vaccine?
Although smallpox vaccination was a protection in the past, today people younger than 40-50 years old (depending on the country) may be more susceptible to monkeypox due to the cessation of smallpox vaccination campaigns around the world after the eradication of the disease, the WHO points out.
Smallpox Vaccine Works Against Monkeypox
Such a vaccine, if necessary, can be quickly developed, since the technology is not new. Experts confirm that there is no independent vaccine against monkeypox in the world.