Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals such as rats and primates and occasionally infects humans. Most cases have occurred in Central and West Africa, where the disease is endemic.
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 occurred in 1970, in a 9-year-old boy in a remote Congo area.
What are the symptoms and how is it treated?
Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes mild symptoms.
Most patients 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.
The incubation period is about five days to three weeks. Most people recover in about two to four weeks without the need for hospitalization.
Monkeypox can be fatal for one in 10 people and is considered more serious in children.
People who come in contact with the virus are often vaccinated against smallpox, which has been shown to be effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed.
On Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control recommended that all suspected cases be isolated and that small-risk acquaintances be given the smallpox vaccine.
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.
Patchy health monitoring systems mean many infected people are likely to be missed, experts say.
Isolated cases of monkeypox are occasionally seen outside of Africa, including the United States and Britain. Cases are usually associated with travel to Africa or contact with animals in areas where the disease is most prevalent.
In 2003, there were 47 confirmed or probable cases in six states in the United States. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs kept in small mammals imported from Ghana.
What is different in this case?
This is the first time that monkeypox has spread among people who have not traveled to Africa.
Infections have been reported in Europe, Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. In most cases men are involved who have had sex with men.
The UK’s Health Security Agency says not all cases are connected, indicating that multiple chains of infection are occurring.
Infections in Portugal were taken to a sexual health clinic, where men sought help for wounds on their genitals.
On Wednesday, U.S. officials reported a case of monkeypox in a man who had recently traveled to Canada, where authorities are investigating a possible infection.
Are monkeypox spreading through sex?
It is possible, but at the moment it is unclear.
Monkeypox has not been previously reported to be transmitted through sex, but it can be transmitted through close contact with infected people, through their body fluids and through their clothing or bed sheets.
Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, said it was too early to determine how men in the UK became infected.
“Naturally, intimate contact is involved with sexual activity, which is expected to increase the likelihood of infection regardless of a person’s sexual orientation and mode of transmission,” Skinner said.
According to Franোয়াois Ballocks of University College London, the monkeypox says that the disease qualifies as sexual as the kind of close contact required for infection.
The UK lawsuits “do not necessarily imply any recent changes in the route of transmission of the virus,” Ballocks said.
Barry Hatton from Lisbon, Portugal contributed to this report.