LONDON – Health authorities in Europe, North America, Israel and Australia have identified more than 100 cases of monkeypox in recent days.
Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals such as rats and primates and occasionally infects humans. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox.
Most cases have occurred in Central and West Africa, and the prevalence has been relatively limited.
The disease was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of “pox-like” disease in research monkeys – hence the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a young boy in a remote area of the Congo.
What is the reason for this recent outbreak?
Health officials are still investigating, but a top adviser to the World Health Organization said this week that the leading theory is that the monkeypox spread in Europe after two recent rave sex activities.
Dr David Heyman, who chairs the WHO’s Infectious Risk Advisory Group, said monkeypox could spread if there was close contact with someone already infected with the disease, and that “sexual contact now seems to have exacerbated the infection.”
Authorities in countries including Britain, Spain, Germany and Portugal say most known cases in Europe involve men having sex with men, but experts stress that anyone can be infected by contacting a sick person, their clothing or bed sheets.
Scientists say it will be difficult to determine whether it is spread through sex or mere intimate contact.
Why do most of the current infections outside of Africa have sex with men?
It’s unclear, but gay and bisexual men are less likely to be infected than anyone else.
Dr Jack Dunning, an infectious disease researcher at Oxford University, said: “It may be unfortunate that (MonkeyPix) first entered this particular community,” and is involved in the treatment of the case in London. “It’s just that they’re a community and through sex with each other, it’s spreading like this,” he said.
Other experts warn that the disease could spread further if measures are not taken to stop the outbreak.
“Infectious diseases don’t care about borders or social networks. Some groups may be more likely to be exposed at this time, but there is no current risk of exposure to monkeypox, “said Dr. John Brooks of CDC, an exclusive source for those who have sex with men.
What are the symptoms and how is it treated?
Most monkeypox patients simply experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. More serious illnesses can cause rashes and sores on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
While most people recover within about two to four weeks without the need for hospitalization, monkeypox can be fatal in up to 6% of cases and is considered more serious in children.
Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox and anti-viral drugs are also being developed.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control recommends that all suspected cases be isolated and that high-risk contacts be given a smallpox vaccine. The UK is offering the smallpox vaccine to high-risk acquaintances and advising to isolate those who may be infected until they recover.
The United States has 1,000 doses of a vaccine approved for the prevention of monkeypox and smallpox, as well as more than 100 million doses of the older generation smallpox vaccine in a government stockpile, officials said.
How worrying is this outbreak?
Any outbreak of the emerging virus is worrying, but in most cases mild and no deaths have been reported so far.
The spread of monkeypox also requires very close contact, so it is unlikely to induce large waves of disease such as COVID-19, which can be transmitted to the air by people with no symptoms.
Nevertheless, the UK’s health care body says it expects to see new infections “on a daily basis” and WHO’s Europe director warns that the summer season of festivals and parties could spread the disease. In many cases the identification has nothing to do with the previous infection, which means that the virus has already spread widely.
On Tuesday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak was “not the beginning of a new epidemic” but needed to be controlled quickly.
How many monkeypox cases are there in general?
The World Health Organization estimates that thousands of monkeypox infections occur in about a dozen countries in Africa each year. Mostly in the Congo, where about 6,000 cases are reported annually, and in Nigeria, about 3,000 cases a year.
In the past, isolated cases of monkeypox have been observed outside of Africa, including the United States and Britain. The cases were mostly associated with travel to Africa or contact with animals in the region where the disease is most prevalent.
In 2003, there were 47 confirmed or probable cases in six U.S. states. They caught the virus from a pet prairie dog kept with small mammals imported from Ghana.
New York-based AP writers Mike Stobe and Berlin-based Kirsten Grisheber contributed to this report.
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