Explainer: how concerned should we be about monkey pox?

A section of skin tissue harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with monkeypox virus is seen at 50x magnification on day four of skin rash development in 1968. CDC/Handout via REUTERS

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NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) – Global health officials have sounded the alarm over rising cases in Europe and elsewhere of monkeypox, a type of viral infection more common in West and Central Africa.

On Friday, about 80 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and another 50 are under investigation in 11 countries. read more The following is known about the current outbreak and relative risk of monkeypox:

HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?

The risk to the general public is low right now, a U.S. public health official told reporters during a briefing on Friday. read more

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Monkeypox is a virus that can cause symptoms such as fever, pain and presents with a characteristic bumpy rash.

It is related to smallpox but tends to be milder, especially the West African strain of the virus identified in a US case, which has a fatality rate of about 1%. Most people make a full recovery within two to four weeks, the official said.

The virus is not transmitted as easily as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that sparked the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts believe the current monkeypox outbreak is spread through close, intimate skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an active rash. That should make its spread easier once infections are identified, experts said.

“COVID is spread through the respiratory tract and is highly contagious. This does not appear to be the case with monkeypox,” said Dr. Martin Hirsch of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Many – but not all – people diagnosed with the current monkeypox outbreak are men who have sex with men, including cases in Spain linked to a sauna in the Madrid region. read more

WHAT HAVE THE HEALTH PROFESSIONALS INVOLVED?

The recent outbreaks reported so far are atypical, according to the WHO, as they occur in countries where the virus does not circulate regularly. Scientists are trying to understand the origin of the current cases and whether anything about the virus has changed.

Most of the cases reported to date have been detected in the UK, Spain and Portugal. There have also been cases in Canada and Australia, and a single case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Boston, with public health officials saying more cases are likely to emerge in the United States.

WHO officials have expressed concern that more infections could develop as people gather in Europe and elsewhere for festivals, celebrations and holidays over the coming summer months. read more

HOW CAN PEOPLE PROTECT FROM INFECTION?

The UK has started vaccinating healthcare workers who may be at risk while caring for patients with the smallpox vaccine, which may also protect against monkeypox. The US government says it has stockpiled enough smallpox vaccine in its Strategic National Stock (SNS) to vaccinate the entire US population.

There are antivirals for smallpox that can also be used to treat monkeypox under certain circumstances, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

More generally, health officials say people should avoid close personal contact with anyone who has a rash or is otherwise unwell. People who suspect they have monkey pox should isolate themselves and seek medical attention.

WHAT WOULD BE BEHIND THE SPIKE IN CASES?

“Viruses are nothing new and not expected,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Rasmussen said a number of factors, including increased global travel and climate change, have accelerated the emergence and spread of viruses. The world is also more alert to new outbreaks of any kind in the wake of the COVID pandemic, she said.

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Reporting by Michael Erman, additional reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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