Over 100 cases of monkeypox have now been suspected in Europe. Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America. Following the scare of the outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday said that it held an emergency meeting on monkeypox, the viral infection more common in the West and Central Africa.
According to reports, the WHO committee that held the meeting to discuss the issue is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which advices on infection risks that could pose a global health threat.
However, research and debate continue over whether monkeypox is a sexually-transmitted disease.
Even as the world is recovering from the Covid -19 pandemic, the emergence of the new and potentially dangerous virus has caused flutters in the medical community. According to reports, the first case of the rare virus was confirmed in a man from Massachusetts who had recently travelled to Canada.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare, usually mild infection, typically caught from infected wild animals in parts of Africa.
It was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’
The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.
The disease is a relative of smallpox, causing a rash that often begins on the face, according to the UK's NHS website.
What are the symptoms of Monkeypox?
Monkeypox typically begins with a flu-like illness.
It usually takes between five to 21 days for the first symptoms to appear, If someone gets infected with monkeypox.
Symptoms of this disease usually include a fever, a headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering and exhaustion.
After the appearance of fever, Within 1 to 3 days or sometimes even longer than that, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body.
The rash is sometimes confused with chickenpox because it starts as raised spots which turn into small scabs filled with fluid. The symptoms usually clear up within two to four weeks and scabs fall off.
The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks. In Africa, monkeypox has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease.
What are WHO and other medical experts saying?
There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the World Health Organization said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases Friday.
“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several WHO advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said."
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are being developed.
Nigeria reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, WHO said. Outbreaks are usually in rural areas when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels.
WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, described the outbreak as “atypical,” saying the disease’s appearance in so many countries across the continent suggested that “transmission has been ongoing for some time.” He said most of the European cases are mild.
How is Monkeypox transmitted?
Monkeypox can be caught from a bite by an infected animal, or by touching its blood, body fluids or fur. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes - eyes, nose, or mouth.
It's very unusual to catch monkeypox from a human because it doesn't spread easily between people.
It's thought to be spread by rodents, such as rats, mice and squirrels. It's also possible to catch the disease by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked properly.
Human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens. It is possible to spread the disease by touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the rash.
The disease can also be transmitted by touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs or getting too close to coughs and sneezes from an infected person.
Is Monkeypox a sexually transmitted disease?
On Friday, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the U.K. and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, or bisexual or had sex with men.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases were in young men who mostly had sex with other men and said those cases were picked up when the men turned up with lesions at sexual health clinics.
Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex or other close contact related to sex.
Nigeria hasn’t seen sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he noted that viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread. The same could be true of monkeypox, Tomori said.
How fatal is Monkeypox?
Studies in central Africa show the disease kills as many as one in 10 infected people, according to the World Health Organization.
However, most patients recover within a few weeks
What is the treatment?
There's currently no specific treatment for monkeypox. To control a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, the smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used.
Patients will usually need to stay in a specialist hospital so the infection doesn't spread and general symptoms can be treated.
(with inputs from agencies)