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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

What is monkeypox? A microbiologist explains what is known about this smallpox cousin

On May 18, 2022, Massachusetts health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a case of monkeypox in a patient who had recently traveled to Canada. Cases have also been reported in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Monkeypox is not a new disease. The first confirmed human case was in 1970, when the virus was isolated from a child suspected of having smallpox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Monkeypox is unlikely to lead to another pandemic, but with COVID-19 in mind, the fear of another major outbreak is understandable. Although rare and usually mild, monkeypox can still potentially cause serious illness. Health officials are concerned that the increase in travel will lead to more cases.

I am a researcher who has worked for more than three decades in public health and medical laboratories, particularly in the field of diseases of animal origin. What is really happening in the current outbreak, and what does history tell us about monkeypox?

a cousin of smallpox

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to a subset of the poxviridae family of viruses called orthopoxviruses. This subset includes smallpox, vaccinia, and cowpox viruses. While an animal reservoir for monkeypox virus is unknown, African rodents are suspected to play a role in transmission. Monkeypox virus has only been isolated twice in nature from an animal. Diagnostic testing for monkeypox is currently only available at Laboratory Response Network laboratories in the US and globally.

The name “monkeypox” comes from the first documented cases of the disease in animals in 1958, when two outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. However, the virus did not pass from monkeys to humans, nor are monkeys a major carrier of the disease.

Electron Microscope View Of Monkeypox, Showing Oval-Shaped, Mature Virus Particles And Spherical, Immature Virus
Monkeypox belongs to the Poxviridae family of viruses, which also includes smallpox.
CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith


Since the first reported human case, monkeypox has been found in several other Central and West African countries, with the majority of infections in the DRC. Cases outside Africa have been linked to international travel or imported animals, including in the Americas and elsewhere.

The first cases of monkeypox in the US were in a 2003 outbreak in Texas involving a shipment of animals from Ghana. Maryland also had travel-related cases in November and July 2021.

Since monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can provide protection against infection with both viruses. Since smallpox was officially abolished, however, routine smallpox vaccination for the US general population was stopped in 1972. Because of this, monkeypox is increasingly appearing in unvaccinated people.

Person Checking Temperature At Airport
Indonesia began screening travelers after a case of monkeypox was reported in Singapore in May 2019.
Zapiona Delita/Future Publishing Via Getty Images


The virus can be spread through contact with an infected person or animal or contaminated surfaces. Typically, the virus enters the body through broken skin, inhalation, or through mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth. Researchers believe that human-to-human transmission occurs mostly through inhalation of large respiratory droplets rather than direct contact with body fluids or indirect contact through clothing. Human-to-human transmission rates for monkeypox have been limited.

Health officials are concerned that the virus is currently spreading through community transmission, possibly through a new mechanism or route. Where and how the infection is happening, it is being investigated.

Signs and symptoms

After the virus enters the body, it starts spreading and spreading in the body through the bloodstream. Symptoms usually do not appear until one to two weeks after infection.

Monkeypox causes smallpox-like skin lesions, but symptoms are usually milder than chickenpox. Flu-like symptoms are common initially, ranging from fever and headache to shortness of breath. After one to 10 days, a rash may appear on the extremities, head, or trunk that eventually turns into pus-filled blisters. Overall, symptoms usually last two to four weeks, while skin lesions usually go away in 14 to 21 days.

While monkeypox is rare and usually non-fatal, one variant of the disease kills about 10% of infected people. The form of the virus that is currently circulating is considered mild, with a mortality rate of less than 1%.

Vaccines and Treatments

Treatment of monkeypox primarily focuses on relieving symptoms. According to the CDC, there is no treatment available to cure a monkeypox infection.

Since smallpox is closely related to monkeypox, the smallpox vaccine can protect against both diseases.

Evidence suggests that the smallpox vaccine may help prevent infection with monkeypox and reduce the severity of symptoms. A vaccine known as Imvaimmune or Imvanex is licensed in the US to prevent monkeypox and smallpox.

Vaccination after exposure to the virus can also help reduce the chance of serious illness. The CDC currently only recommends smallpox vaccination in people who have been exposed to or likely to have monkeypox. Immunocompromised people are at higher risk.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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