What is monkeypox? Symptoms, transmission and why cases are rising in Europe
A handful of monkeypox cases have now been reported or suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain. Outbreaks are raising alarm because the disease occurs mostly in West and Central Africa, and only occasionally spreads elsewhere. Here’s what scientists know so far.
Monkeypox is a virus that causes a characteristic bumpy rash along with fever symptoms. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with a mortality rate of up to 10% – and the West African strain, which has a mortality rate of over 1% of cases. Cases in the UK have been reported at least as long as the West African strain.
“Historically, very few cases have been exported. This has only happened eight times before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “extremely unusual.”
Portugal has registered five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 possible cases. No country has reported cases before.
The virus is spread through close contact, both in the spillover of animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first detected in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.
Transmission is puzzling experts this time, as many of the cases in the United Kingdom – nine as of 18 May – have no known link to each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently traveled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of widespread transmission if cases go unreported.
The alert from the UK’s Health Protection Agency also highlighted that recent cases were mainly among men who identified themselves as gay, bisexual or men who had sex with men, and alerted those groups. advised to stay.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that scientists will now sequence the viruses to see if they are linked.
One possible scenario behind the increase in cases is an increase in travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it in West and Central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we’re seeing more cases,” Whitworth said.
Monkeypox puts virologists on 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 shutdown of vaccination campaigns has led to a boom in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
But experts have appealed to the people not to panic.
“This is not going to cause a nationwide pandemic like COVID, but it is a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we must take it seriously,” Whitworth said.
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