Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus. This virus belongs to the genus orthopox. You might be familiar with other viruses from the same genus such as varicella virus (chickenpox) and vaccinia virus (used in the smallpox vaccine). This virus got its name when it was first discovered in monkeys in 1958 from a research facility. The first human case of monkeypox occurred in 1970 when a 9-year-old boy developed a pox-like illness during the eradication effort of smallpox. This disease is centralized in Africa, especially the West and Central Africa. However, there have been reported outbreaks in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, and Singapore which were traced back to Africa. This disease is considered endemic in Africa and occurs very rarely outside of Africa. The latest case reported outside of Africa was in the United States in July 2021 when a Texas man contracted the disease after travelling to Nigeria.
What are the risk factors for Monkeypox?
Monkeypox virus is a zoonosis virus, meaning it is transmitted from animals to humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the natural reservoir for this virus is not yet identified but it could possibly be rodents. Research done in the African rainforest found antibodies of this virus in squirrels, rats, rabbits, monkeys, porcupines, and gazelles. This virus can be transmitted in direct contact with the infected animal’s blood, bodily fluids, cutaneous or mucosal lesions. Eating undercooked meat of an infected animal can also possibly transmit this virus.
Although this virus is zoonotic, human-to-human transmissions have also been reported. It is a rare occurrence but it can happen through respiratory droplets, skin lesions, or contaminated objects from an infected individual.
Some risk factors include :
- Bites or scratches from infected animals
- Eating undercooked meat
- Travelling to Central and West Africa
- Living in or near forested areas
- Close contact with infected individuals, especially family members and healthcare workers
- Living in closed quarters with infected individuals
What are the symptoms of Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is very similar to smallpox when it comes to clinical features. The main differentiating factor is the presence of lymphadenopathy which is seen in monkeypox, but not in smallpox. Other symptoms of this illness depend on its viral phase.
Phase 1 is the prodromal phase and this can happen up to 5 days after the incubation period. During this phase, patients may present with general symptoms such as :
- Severe headache
- Back pain
- Asthenia (lack of energy)
The next phase is called the eruptive phase. As the name indicates, skin eruptions or rashes begin to form throughout the body. The rashes are more concentrated towards the face, the palms of hands, and the soles of feet. During the resolution of illness, the skin eruptions will crust and fall off. As of now, there is no specific treatment for this viral disease but it is self-limiting. This viral illness can last up to 4 weeks and it can give rise to certain complications especially to children and immunocompromised patients. Complications that can occur include :
- Secondary infections
- Corneal infection that can lead to blindness
How to prevent Monkeypox infection?
Monkeypox is a rare disease but as always, it is better to prevent than to cure. You can use these steps to avoid getting infected by this virus.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
- Wear protective gear when entering the jungle or when in contact with wild animals.
- Always practice good hand hygiene especially before eating and touching your face.
- If you are in contact with an infected person, keep yourself isolated from other people.
- Wear personal protective equipment when handling infected individuals.