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First Monkeypox Case In Kerala Sets India On Alert: What Is It, What Are The Symptoms?

A 35-year-old man who returned to the southern state from abroad and was hospitalised after showing signs of monkeypox tested positive for the disease, the first case in India.

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Mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions as seen under an electron microscope in 2003
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Even as the country continues to count its losses and grapple with a steady stream of Covid-19 cases, a new disease that has made its way to India has left the medical community nervous and the administration into swift action. According to reports, te first case of monkeypox in India has been reported in the southern state of Kerala. 

The Union health ministry on Thursday rushed a high-level multidisciplinary team to Kerala which will assist the state authorities in instituting adequate public health measures to deal with the situation. 

The team comprises experts drawn from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr RML Hospital, New Delhi and senior officials from the health ministry along with experts from Regional Office of Health and Family Welfare, Kerala. 

"In view of the report of confirmation of a case of monkeypox disease from Kollam district in Kerala, the health ministry has decided to depute a multidisciplinary central team to support the Kerala government in investigating the outbreak and institute requisite public health measures," an office memorandum by the health ministry said. 

"The Government of India is taking proactive steps by monitoring the situation carefully and coordinating with states in case of any such possibility of outbreak occurs," the health ministry said.

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Kerala on alert

Kerala Health Minister Veena George earlier said a 35-year-old man who returned to the southern state from abroad and was hospitalised after showing signs of monkeypox tested positive for the disease. The state health department will work closely with the central team and take stock of the on-ground situation, and recommend necessary public health interventions.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare, usually mild infection, typically caught from infected wild animals in parts of Africa. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe.

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The disease 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. With the eradication of smallpox in 1980 and subsequent cessation of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has emerged as the most important orthopoxvirus for public health.   

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 that turn into small scabs filled with fluid. The symptoms usually clear up within two to four weeks and scabs fall off.

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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.

How big a threat is it?

Following the recent scare of a Monkeypox outbreak following a rise in cases across the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) held an emergency meeting on monkeypox in May.

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. 

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To date, no one has died in the outbreak. 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.

(With inputs from PTI)

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