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Monkeypox is a zoonotic viral disease, an infectious disease transmitted to humans by animals. The Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus. The Orthopoxvirus genus also includes the variola virus, which causes smallpox and the vaccinia virus, which is used in the smallpox vaccine to help the body develop immunity to smallpox. Monkeypox has symptoms similar to those found in smallpox patients, although much less severe. Mortality of Monkeypox is one magnitude less than smallpox. Monkeypox is a rare disease, so far, but since May of this year, 28 Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported cases in regions where the virus is not usual or hasn’t been previously reported. Recently, there has been an outbreak across the US, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. Since the beginning of June, there have been 1,285 laboratory-confirmed cases and one probable case. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss Already Had COVID? These Symptoms May “Never Go Away”.
The Monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 after two outbreaks occurred in colonies of research monkeys. The first human case of Monkeypox wasn’t recorded until 1970 which happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a 9-month-old boy. Since the initial human case, Monkeypox has been reported in people in several other Central and Western African countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. A majority of the infections reported have been in the DRC. However, Monkeypox cases have spread into people outside of Africa in the United States, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these cases are linked to international travel or imported animals. The first case outside of Africa occurred in the United States was in 2003. As of the beginning of June, 12 U.S. states have reported cases of Monkeypox, including California (currently with the highest numbers), Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
The Monkeypox virus is primarily spread through contact, when a person encounters an infected animal, through direct contact with body fluids or sores on an infected person, or by contact with materials that the virus has contaminated through body fluids or sores. The virus can also spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact. The virus can spread from animals to people through bites, scratches, or fecal matter of infected animals, by handling wild game, or through products created from infected animals. Currently, the CDC does not know what animals maintain the virus, although African rats are among the suspected of causing transmission to people.
The symptoms of Monkeypox are similar to most other viruses. The initial symptoms are flu-like and may include fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and joint aches and fatigue. An infected patient may experience one of these symptoms, five of these symptoms, or all. Symptoms can change from case to case. The incubation period for monkeypox is approximately seven to 14 days but can range from five to 21 days. Approximately one to three days after the appearance of a fever, a patient infected with Monkeypox will develop a rash, often starting on the face and spreading across the body (that’s “pox.”). The skin lesions then progress from macules to papules to vesicles to pustules and finally to scabs before falling off. Patients are considered contagious from their initial symptoms until all skin legions fall off. Monkeypox usually runs its course within two to four weeks.
Patients who believe they have been exposed to Monkeypox should call their doctor immediately for advice, testing and medical care. Once a patient has confirmed a Monkeypox infection, they will need to self-isolate until the virus has passed to prevent further spreading. Many public health and infectious disease experts are concerned U.S. testing for the disease is insufficient due to capacity bottlenecks in our government lab network that are causing delays. Thankfully, however, the health threat to the public is low right now because the stockpile vaccine and drug for smallpox are available for Monkeypox too. Monkeypox symptoms usually resolve themselves without needing treatment, and current treatment is primarily supportive. However, some antivirals developed for patients with smallpox may prove beneficial due to the similarities between Monkeypox and smallpox. There are also two vaccinations against Monkeypox – ACAM2000, a vaccination developed for smallpox and Jynneos, another smallpox vaccine licensed in the U.S. These vaccinations can be used to prevent infection and for someone exposed to Monkeypox up to 14 days after exposure.
The risk of Monkeypox infection can be reduced by limiting contact with people who have confirmed Monkeypox or are suspected of being infected. The most important preventative measure is good hand hygiene by regularly cleaning your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is also essential to clean and disinfect any clothes, bed sheets, towels, or other items and surfaces that may have been exposed to anyone infected or suspected of being infected with Monkeypox.And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Emil Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.S is a scientist, professor at UCLA School of Medicine and the founder of SyneuRx.
Emil Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.S