United States became the latest country to detect a case of rare monkeypox virus. Apart from the US, the cases are rising in European countries- United Kingdomas, Spain and Portugal which detected over 40 suspected cases of monkeypox.
WHAT IS THE VIRUS
The monkeypox virus is an orthopoxvirus, which is a genus of viruses that also includes the variola virus, which causes smallpox. Monkeypox is a zoonosis, a disease that is transmitted from infected animals to humans.
According to the WHO, cases occur close to tropical rainforests inhabited by animals that carry the virus. Monkeypox virus infection has been detected in squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice, and some species of monkeys.
Human-to-human transmission of the virus is, however, limited. It can be through contact with bodily fluids, lesions on the skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose or mouth or by virus-contaminated objects, such as bedding and clothing.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because the viral disease, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10% mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of more like 1% of cases. The UK cases are least have been reported as the West African strain.
“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “highly unusual”.
Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.
The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is transmitted mainly to people from wild animals such as rodents and primates, but human-to-human transmission is also possible.
Human-to-human transmission occurs by contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials such as bedding. Eating inadequately cooked meat and other products of infected animals is also a possible risk factor, the WHO says.
Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom – nine as of May 18 – have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently travelled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported.
The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be alert.
Scientists will now sequence the virus to see if they are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.
IS MONKEYPOX FATAL?
Monkeypox can kill up to one in ten people who get it but the new cases have the West African variant, which is deadly for around one in 100.
Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.
CAN THE VIRUS LEAD TO ANOTHER PANDEMIC?
Any disease that circulates in animals and can be passed to people has potential to cause a new pandemic, if it mutates to become more deadly or more easily transmissible. Also, Monkeypox virus has no specific treatment nor specific vaccine licensed for use.
One likely scenario behind the increase in cases is increased travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth.
Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.
Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
But experts urged people not to panic.
“This isn’t going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously,” said Whitworth.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Kashmir Today staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)