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What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection transmitted to humans by both animals and humans. Like smallpox, it’s a member of the orthopoxvirus family and can cause lesions and blisters on the face and body. Since the eradication of smallpox, monkeypox is now recognised as the most important orthopoxvirus in humans[1].

Up To 10 % Of Cases Result in Death World Health Organization [2]

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 among monkeys kept for research purposes. Until recently, infections of monkeypox in humans had mostly been limited to areas of central and western Africa, specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria where the virus is naturally occurring.

More recently and according to the World Health Organization, fifteen countries on four continents have reported confirmed cases of monkeypox[2].

Reported Cases: 1970-2019[3]

In the last two years there have been several cases of travellers to Nigeria being diagnosed with monkeypox after returning to Europe[4].

How is it spread?

Animal to human transmission occurs via contact with or consumption of infected animals.

Human to human transmission mainly occurs through respiratory droplets, direct contact with infected secretions and from being in a contaminated patient environment[4].

What are the signs and symptoms?

Most people infected with monkeypox will recover within several weeks although some cases are more severe than others. The time between the exposure to monkeypox and first signs of symptoms can range between 5 to 21 days. The symptoms of this virus are split into two phases:

Invasion phase (0-5 days)

  • Fever
  • Intense headaches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Back pain
  • Muscle ache (Myalgia)
  • Intense lack of energy

Skin eruption phase (10 days – 3 weeks)

1-3 days after the fever, various stages of rash appear. This often begins on the face and then spreads elsewhere on the body.

The rash can evolve from lesions with flat bases to small fluid-filled blisters and pustules. Crusts will occur approximately 10 days after fever and can take three weeks to completely disappear.

Am I at risk?

Monkeypox infects thousands of people every year and can lead to death in up to one tenth of cases[2]. In a global society, the risk of international spread is a huge concern and yet there is still a lack of awareness surrounding the nature of the disease and its risk of transmission.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), transmission can occur in the following ways:

Contact with an infected animal or human, or contaminated material that enables the virus to enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes. 

Direct or indirect contact with live or dead animals – via a bite or a scratch and the preparation of bush meat. Eating poorly cooked meat of an infected animal is also a risk. The virus can also be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids or lesions from an infected animal and indirect contact with contaminated material.

Human-to-human transmission is rare but is reported to occur during direct and prolonged face-to-face contact via large respiratory droplets. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person or with contaminated objects, such as bedding or clothing. 

Protecting yourself against monkeypox

If you are at risk of contracting monkeypox, speak to your doctor, employer or local travel clinic about what you can do to minimise the risk of infection. You can also follow these practical measures to protect yourself and prevent the spread of infection to others:

  • Avoid contact with wild, sick and dead animals
  • Make sure all food that contains animal meat is thoroughly cooked
  • Avoid close contact with monkeypox patients

If you are a health worker caring for a patient with monkeypox, you should follow standard infection control precautions. Ideally only those who have had the monkeypox vaccine should care for infected patients.

If you are returning from Africa and you are experiencing any of the monkeypox symptoms, visit a healthcare professional[5].

More Information

Learn more about monkeypox from the World Health Organization.