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Business News/ News / World/  Monkeypox found in Europe, US: Know about transmission, symptoms; should you be worried?
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Monkeypox found in Europe, US: Know about transmission, symptoms; should you be worried?

Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research — hence the name — with the first human case recorded in 1970

The viral disease, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in the west and central Africa (via REUTERS)Premium
The viral disease, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in the west and central Africa (via REUTERS)

The United States has reported a new case of the rare and potentially dangerous monkeypox, while two news cases have appeared in the United Kingdom. 

Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.

The infected Massachusetts man had recently travelled to Canada and is now receiving treatment. Health officials in Canada are investigating up to 13 monkeypox cases in Montreal. 

The infection has raised an alarm, with the World Health Organisation stating that it is evaluating the virus.  

The viral disease, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in the west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.

So what is monkeypox, and should you be worried?

Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research — hence the name — with the first human case recorded in 1970.

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 about 1% of cases. The UK cases 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".

How can you catch it?

It can be caught from a bite by an infected animal, or by touching its blood, body fluids or fur. It is thought to be spread by rodents, such as rats, mice and squirrels.

It is also possible to catch the disease by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked properly.

It is very unusual to catch monkeypox from a human, because it doesn’t spread easily among people.

But it is possible to spread the disease through 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.

However, transmission this time is puzzling experts because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom – nine as of 18 May – have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently travelled to Nigeria.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox symptoms usually take between five to 21 days to appear. They include a fever, a headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering and exhaustion.

A rash typically appears one to five days after experiencing these symptoms. The rash is sometimes confused with chickenpox, because it starts as raised spots which turn into small scabs filled with fluid.

What is its cure?

Patients will usually need to stay in a specialist hospital so infection doesn't spread and general symptoms can be treated.

There is one vaccine and one specific treatment – SIGA Technologies' Tecovirimat, a drug usually sold under the brand name Tpoxx – but they are not yet widely available.

What can be the cause of its outbreak now?

Experts say that a possible scenario behind the rise in cases is increased travel as Covid-19 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 since 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 in areas where the disease is endemic, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.

She said an urgent investigation of the new cases was important as "they could suggest a novel means of spread or a change in the virus, but this is all to be determined".

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.

With inputs from agencies. 

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Published: 19 May 2022, 04:42 PM IST
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