Here’s What You Need To Know About The Rare Virus Found In The U.S., U.K. And Europe
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Topline

Cases of monkeypox, a rare infection typically found in specific parts of Africa, have been confirmed in Europe, the U.K. and the U.S., while more than a dozen more are suspected and experts are unclear as to how, where and for how long the virus has been spreading in the community.

Key Facts

Monkeypox is usually found in parts of Central and Western Africa, with infections elsewhere rare and typically linked to travel to those regions.

The virus does not spread easily between people and can be transmitted through close contact with an infected animal, person or contaminated materials like towels or bedding, mostly via respiratory droplets but also through contact with bodily fluids or monkeypox sores.

Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, muscle aches, headache, chills, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes, with many going on to develop a rash within one to five days after fever appears.

A person is contagious until all scabs have fallen off and there is intact skin underneath, though the scabs themselves can still contain infectious material.

The disease is usually mild and goes away on its own within a month, and while the WHO said children are at higher risk than adults, it can cause complications during pregnancy—including stillbirth and congenital monkeypox—and could have a fatality rate between 1% and 10%.

News Peg

Cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the U.K., Spain, Portugal and Massachusetts, with more suspected and under investigation. More than a dozen cases are also suspected in Canada. The cases were not linked with travel to areas where monkeypox is more common and officials think the outbreaks signal transmission of the virus in the community.

Surprising Fact

Most of the monkeypox cases have been found among gay and bisexual men or men who have sex with men. While the virus is not known to be sexually transmitted, some experts believe the pattern suggests this as another route of transmission. The leader of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit Maria Van Kerkhove told STAT News people should be cautious about fixating on the pattern among men who have sex with men. It’s possible the pattern is a product of where health officials are searching for more cases or that this is a group of people more likely visit sexual health clinics, for example.

What We Don’t Know

A great deal. While experts believe the pattern of infections indicate the disease spreading in the community, it’s not clear how or if different clusters are connected. It’s also unclear for how long the disease may have been circulating, though WHO’s Van Kerkhove told STAT News it’s “clearly… been going on for a few weeks.” There are also two broad strain of monkeypox, one circulating in West Africa and the other the Congo Basin. The West African strain, which officials believe is involved in the current outbreaks, has a fatality rate of around 1%. The Congo Basin strain has a much higher documented fatality rate, as high as 10%. Beyond that, scientists don’t know the host animal for the virus. The name monkeypox is a misnomer—it was named after being identified in laboratory monkeys in the 1950s—and experts believe rodents are the likely reservoir.

Tangent

There are no proven, safe treatments for monkeypox approved for use in the U.S., according to the CDC. It said outbreaks can be managed using vaccines for smallpox—a closely related virus—antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin, a therapy derived from the blood of people vaccinated against smallpox. While there are more options to tackle smallpox, they are still limited and supplies are scarce owing to the disease being eradicated more than four decades ago, which also means very few people under the age of 40 or 50 will have been immunized against it. On Wednesday, the U.S. exercised a $119 million option to manufacture the only FDA approved vaccine for smallpox—which has also been approved to protect against monkeypox—though these would be expected to be manufactured in 2023 and 2024. It is not clear whether the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) exercised this option over the monkeypox outbreaks or for another reason (countries stockpile smallpox vaccines for defense purposes).

Further Reading

First U.S. Monkeypox Case Of 2022 Reported In Massachusetts (Forbes)

Monkeypox – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (World Health Organization)

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