Monkeypox: What we know about the smallpox-like virus discovered in the UK

Health authorities in the United Kingdom have confirmed the case of monkeypox – a rare viral infection associated with smallpox – in a person who recently flew in from Nigeria.

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

UKHSA did not release any details on the person’s gender or age, but said it was working to identify anyone who had been in close contact with the infected patient, including people traveling 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 contagious, causes milder symptoms, and is less deadly.

The disease usually lasts two to four weeks, and symptoms can appear anywhere from five to 21 days after infection.

Symptoms of smallpox 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 monkeys from water or smallpox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Once you get a fever, a key feature 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 range from a few to a thousand.

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

Why are they called monkey goddesses?

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

But monkeys may not be to blame for the epidemics, and the natural reservoir of monkeypox remains unknown, although the WHO says they are most likely rodents.

“In Africa, evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in many animals, including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, poaching gambian rats, down, various species of monkeys,” said the UN Health Agency.

Where are the monkey goddesses?

Human monkeypox primarily causes epidemics in the tropical rainforest regions of Central and West Africa and is not commonly seen in Europe.

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

Since then, cases have been reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.

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

Recently, in 2018 and 2019, two travelers from the UK, one from Israel and one from Singapore, who all traveled to Nigeria, were diagnosed with smallpox after a major epidemic there, according to its own European Health Agency, the European Center for Prevention and Control diseases (ECDC),

How to get monkeypox?

The virus can be contracted by biting or scratching an infected animal, eating the flesh of bushes, if you are in direct contact with an infected person, or by touching contaminated bedding or clothing.

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

Human-to-human transmission is thought 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?

Smallpox is “usually a mild disease that self-limits and most people recover within a few weeks,” the UKHSA said in a statement confirming the case.

“It’s important to emphasize that monkeypox doesn’t spread easily among humans and that the overall risk to the general public is very low,” said Dr. Colin Brown, director of the agency’s clinical and emerging infections.

Although the symptoms are milder than those of smallpox, monkeypox has been shown to cause the death of as many as 11 percent of infected patients compared to about 30 percent of smallpox, according to the WHO.

Mortality is higher among children and young people, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness.

Treatment and prevention

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

The smallpox vaccine is believed to be very effective in preventing monkeypox, but since smallpox was declared eradicated more than 40 years ago, the first generation of smallpox vaccine is no longer available to the general public.

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

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