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Monkeypox Outbreak: What You Need to Know

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Monkeypox virus

WHO warned in June that a growing outbreak of Monkeypox in central Africa could lead to more human cases of this rare, but serious infection. Now, with the latest outbreak continuing to grow, it’s time for everyone — not just those working in international aid or research — to get educated about this disease. Let’s take a moment to review what we know about Monkeypox and how you can stay safe from this zoonotic illness.

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection found in wild animals like rodents and monkeys. Traditionally, the disease is only reported in central and western Africa, where it is believed to transfer from animals to humans via other animals, such as rodents, that come into contact with both infected animals and humans. Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, another viral infection eradicated in 1980, but there are two important differences. First, while smallpox can be deadly, with a mortality rate of around 30 percent, Monkeypox is much less dangerous and usually results in a mild illness for humans. Second, smallpox can only be transferred from person to person; Monkeypox, on the other hand, can also be transmitted from animals to humans.

How Does it Spread?

Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease, which can be transmitted between species, including from wild animals to humans. While there are several species of rodents believed to be the primary hosts of the virus, the disease can also be transmitted from these animals to humans. While there are many routes of transmission of Monkeypox, the most likely route is direct contact with infected animals or rodents. Infected individuals can also transmit the virus to others if they contact the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Any animal or human infected can pass the virus to someone else through blood, other bodily fluids, or Monkeypox lesions on the skin, including inside the nose and mouth. Contact with things that touched bodily fluids could also pass it on.

The virus enters the body through a break in the skin that you may not see, or through the mouth, nose or eyes. You could also breathe it in, but you probably would have to be in close contact for a while. That’s because larger droplets don’t travel very far. The UK Health Security Agency has said that “a notable proportion” of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men, “so we encourage them to be aware of the symptoms and seek help if they are concerned.” Although some cases have been seen in gay and bisexual men, anyone who comes into close contact with someone who has Monkeypox could potentially get the virus.

Signs and Symptoms of Monkeypox

If you are exposed to monkeypox, you can expect flu-like symptoms that can last seven to 10 days. The initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of feeling unwell. As the disease progresses, you may experience a rash of blisters, which can sometimes appear in the mouth and conjunctiva, the mucus membranes that line the inside of the eyelids. Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, cough, sore throat, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like other viral illnesses, there is no specific treatment for Monkeypox, and most people recover without serious complications. The only way to prevent infection is to avoid contact with rodents and other wild animals, particularly in areas where the disease is known to circulate.

Treatment for Monkeypox

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for Monkeypox beyond supportive care. If you suspect you or someone you know has contracted Monkeypox, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are in an area with active transmission of Monkeypox and think you may have come into contact with an infected animal, it is important to take precautions to avoid contracting the disease. Wear gloves when cleaning out animal cages or handling wild animals, and avoid direct contact with the fluids from animals or rodents. Vaccination against smallpox has been shown to prevent 85% of cases of Monkeypox

How Can You Stay Safe?

The first known human infection occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. On July 15, 2021, the CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed a human case in a U.S. resident who traveled to Dallas from Nigeria. In May 2022, the CDC issued a statement that they are working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to track a recent Monkeypox case in the US.

To stay safe from Monkeypox and other zoonotic diseases, the best practice is to avoid contact with wild animals. When traveling to a region where the disease is known to circulate, it is important to exercise good hygiene and avoid contact with rodents, wild animals and those infected with the virus. If you must contact animals while traveling in areas where zoonotic diseases are found, wear gloves and perform thorough hand hygiene after each encounter with animals. It is also important to practice good hygiene to avoid contracting zoonotic diseases in general, including the flu and other viral infections.

Final Words

The latest outbreak of Monkeypox reminds us that zoonotic diseases can be present anywhere in the world, including in developed countries. While many zoonotic diseases only pose a threat to health workers and other people who frequent contact with animals, it is important for everyone to be aware of the risks and take precautions to avoid contracting these diseases. If you’re traveling to a country where zoonotic diseases are a risk, avoid contact with wild animals, and practice good hygiene and sanitization practices to minimize the risk of contracting any illnesses.

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