As Monkeypox Cases Begin to Rise, Here’s What You Need to Know About the Virus

After dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic for the past several years, many of us are tired of dealing with lockdowns and hearing the word “pandemic”. However, cases of the monkeypox virus have seen a dramatic increase around the globe so far this year. Until recently the virus has been limited primarily to Central and Western Africa. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of mid-June, around 2000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the United States, with no clear explanation for the increased transmission. In total, there have been roughly 14,000 cases reported so far around the globe, causing some infectious disease experts concern over this perceived increase in infection rates and cases in countries that have not historically had any outbreaks with the virus. Although this news may seem like your typical “doom and gloom” news story, there is a bright side in that the virus is typically not deadly to most healthy adults and children. That being said it is still very unpleasant to contract and can lead to long term scarring and other health complications. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help reduce your chances of contracting the virus and save yourself some of the anxiety associated with dealing with an unfamiliar illness.

The monkeypox virus was first observed and identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a 9-month-old boy in a region where smallpox had been eliminated in 1968. Since then, most cases of the virus have been reported from rural, rainforest regions ranging throughout Central and West Africa. Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries with fatality rates of approximately 3% according to the World Health Organization. In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak to occur outside of Africa was identified in the United States and was caused by contact with infected pet prairie dogs that had been imported from Ghana. This outbreak caused 70 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. Since 2003, cases have popped up in small spurts throughout the 2010’s in various countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Israel, Singapore, and several others. As of 2022, studies are underway to further understand the viruses nature, epidemiology, sources of infection, and transmission patterns in order to improve our ability to prevent future outbreaks.

Transmission of the monkeypox virus can happen through several different means. The virus can spread from animal-to-human transmission which can occur from direct contact with blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. Most commonly the virus is found in rodents, monkeys, tree squirrels, and other small animals. Eating undercooked meat and other animal products of infected animals can also be another cause of animal-to-human transmission of monkeypox. The second type of transmission can occur through human-to-human contact which is generally caused by close contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva, skin lesions of an infected person, or recently contaminated objects. Transmission through respiratory droplet particles typically requires prolonged face-to-fact interaction, which puts healthcare workers and household members at greater risk of infection. The longest documented chain of transmission in a community has increased from 6 to 9 successive person-to-person infections in recent years, partially explaining the rise in number of cases.

The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from 6 to 13 days but can range from 5 to 21 days depending on the person. Infection with the virus is characterized by two separate periods, the invasion period and skin eruption. During the invasion period, the virus typically causes symptoms such as fever, intense headache, lymphadenopathy (swelling of lymph nodes), back pain, muscle aches, and fatigue. This period usually lasts between 0-5 days. The skin eruption period usually begins within 1 to 3 days of appearance of fever and includes the appearance of a rash that is concentrated on the face and extremities such as your arms and legs. According to the World Health Organization, the rash affects the face in 95% of cases and the palms of the hands and soles of the feet in 75% of cases. Additionally the oral mucous membranes are affected in 70% of cases while the genitalia are affected in 30% of all cases. The rash tends to evolve sequentially from lesions with yellowish fluid into scabs that eventually peel off. In severe cases of the virus, lesions can coalesce until larger pieces of skin fall off, causing minor scarring.

However, as concerning as these symptoms can sound, very rarely do they lead to long term or serious health effects. Typically monkeypox is a self-limited disease and symptoms usually resolve within 2 to 4 weeks. Severe cases occur most commonly in children and are also closely tied to the amount of virus exposure, patient health status and nature of complications. Treatments for the virus include clinical care to alleviate symptoms, consumption of food and fluids to maintain healthy nutrition, and treatment with antiviral agents. Vaccination against smallpox has also been demonstrated through several observational studies conducted by the CDC and WHO to be roughly 85% effective in the prevention of monkeypox. Avoiding eating exotic or undercooked meats, infected people and surfaces, as well as getting vaccinated against small pox are the best ways to prevent infection with the virus. As concerning as the monkeypox virus may be, maintaining proper hygeine as well as following these other safety protocols can help to keep you and your loved ones healthy and monkeypox free this summer!

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, July 11). Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/prevention.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, July 20). 2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/world-map.html

Trending clinical topic: Monkeypox. Medscape. (2022, June 24). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://reference.medscape.com/viewarticle/975896

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Monkeypox. World Health Organization. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/monkeypox


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