Monkeypox: What we know about the smallpox-like virus detected in the UK

UK health authorities have confirmed a case of monkeypox, a rare viral infection related to smallpox, in a person who recently flew from Nigeria.

The patient is receiving specialist care in an isolation unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital infectious diseases unit in London, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Saturday.

UKHSA did not release any details about the person’s gender or age, but said it was working to identify anyone who may have been in close contact with the infected patient, including people who were on the same flight.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox, a disease that was eradicated in 1980, but it is less transmissible, causes milder symptoms and is less deadly.

The illness usually lasts two to four weeks, and symptoms can appear five to 21 days after infection.

Monkeypox symptoms usually begin with a combination of fever, headaches, muscle aches, back pain, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes.

This latter symptom is often what helps doctors distinguish monkeypox from chickenpox or smallpox. according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Once you have a fever, the key feature of monkeypox, a nasty rash, tends to develop within one to three days, often starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body.

The number of injuries can range from a few to thousands.

The lesions will go through an ugly maturation process, from macules (flat lesions) to papules (raised lesions), vesicles (fluid-filled lesions), then pustules (pus-filled lesions), and finally scabs (crusty lesions) before finally fall off.

Why is it called monkeypox?

Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family. It was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in laboratory monkeys kept for research, hence the name.

But monkeys may not be to blame for the outbreaks, and the natural reservoir for monkeypox remains unknown, although the WHO says rodents are the most likely.

“In Africa, evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in many animals, including rope squirrels, tree squirrels, poached Gambian rats, dormouse and different species of monkeys,” he says. the UN health agency.

Where is monkeypox found?

Human monkeypox mainly causes outbreaks in the rain forest regions of central and western Africa and is rarely seen in Europe.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had the first recorded human case of monkeypox in 1970.

Since then, cases have been reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

The first reported monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was linked to an importation of infected mammals in 2003 into the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More recently, in 2018 and 2019, two travelers from the UK, one from Israel and one from Singapore, all with travel histories to Nigeria, were diagnosed with monkeypox following a large outbreak there, according to Europe’s own health agency. , the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC),

How do you get monkeypox?

You can get the virus from a bite or scratch from an infected animal, by eating bushmeat, by being in direct contact with an infected human, or by touching contaminated bedding or clothing.

The virus enters the body through breaks in the skin, respiratory tract, or mucous membranes (the eyes, nose, or mouth).

Person-to-person transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets, which usually cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact would be necessary.

Should I be worried?

Monkeypox “is usually a mild, self-limited illness with most people recovering within a few weeks,” the UKHSA said in its statement confirming the case.

“It is important to emphasize that monkeypox does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low,” said Dr. Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the agency.

Although its symptoms are milder than those of smallpox, monkeypox has been shown to cause death in up to 11 percent of infected patients compared to around 30 percent for smallpox, according to the WHO.

Mortality is highest among children and young adults, and immunocompromised persons are at particular risk of severe disease.

Treatment and prevention

There is currently no specific treatment recommended for monkeypox, and it usually goes away on its own.

Smallpox vaccination is thought to be highly effective in preventing monkeypox, but because smallpox was declared eradicated more than 40 years ago, first-generation smallpox vaccines are no longer available to the general public. .

A newer vaccine developed by Bavarian Nordic for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox has been approved in the European Union, the United States, and Canada (under the trade names Imvanex, Jynneos, and Imvamune), and antivirals are also in development.

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