Over the weekend, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox ― a viral disease that causes fever and rash ― a global health emergency after outbreaks were detected in more than 70 countries. .
The disease does not usually spread across the world, but it is currently crossing several new communities, which happens when an infected person comes into close contact with someone else. Declaring a global emergency means that a coordinated international response is needed to fight the virus. The last time the WHO declared a global health emergency was for COVID-19 in January 2020.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is monkeypox and what are the symptoms?
Monkeypox is a viral DNA disease that causes fever and a characteristic, bumpy rash that looks like blisters or pimples until it eventually scabs over as the person recovers . Lesions can appear on the face, hands, feet, inside the mouth and more. The virus can also cause headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.
The zoonotic disease has been around for decades and mainly derives its name from the fact that it was first identified in an outbreak in monkeys in 1958. Today, experts are calling for a reframing of the disease and wish changing its name to hMPXV to remove the stigma attached to it. to contract the virus.
It mainly spreads via spread events from infected animals to humans. Then people can spread it via several different forms of close contact, primarily through blood and respiratory droplets.
At this point, “it certainly doesn’t seem as transmissible as something like COVID or the flu,” Dr. Richard Martinello, Yale Medicine infectious disease expert and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics, told HuffPost.
Over the years, various cases of monkeypox have appeared in the United States and other parts of the world. But it doesn’t often spread outside of endemic areas in Africa, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security.
Monkeypox has a long incubation period of around 12 days. Its death rate is estimated at between 1% and 10%, but Adalja thinks the actual death rate could be lower, depending on where the cases are occurring. “Monkey pox tends to be a disease that is not as deadly as smallpox,” Adalja said.
Monkeypox is endemic to Africa, and outbreaks and cases outside of Africa are not unheard of. In 2021, the United States documented two cases of monkeypox in people who had recently traveled from Nigeria. There was also an outbreak in the United States in 2003, which involved animals transmitting the disease to humans. No human-to-human transmission has been recorded and of the 47 cases identified – in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin – only three were serious.
Some monkeypox outbreaks have lasted about a year, but they haven’t been explosive outbreaks that have grown exponentially like we’ve seen with COVID-19, according to Martinello. “People are becoming aware that there is monkeypox in their community,” he said. “When people get sick, they isolate themselves from others and that helps stop that transmission.”
How do you get monkeypox?
What’s strange about the current outbreak is how monkeypox seems to be spreading. Typically, outbreaks are very localized, but this one involves multiple countries.
“The clusters we’re seeing right now, in several countries, are not travel-related,” Adalja said. “There is transmission that occurs outside of travel and outside of animal exposures, which are the usual routes by which we see cases occur.”
It’s unclear how the monkeypox was able to jump between certain areas, but experts theorize that once it jumps, transmission likely occurred from the exchange of saliva, respiratory droplets and bodily fluids . The virus is usually transmitted through prolonged physical contact, whether sexual or not. Touching or handling clothing or bedding used by someone infected with the virus can also spread the disease.
According to The Atlantic, the first case identified in the UK fits the traditional pattern of the disease spreading via travel. However, other cases in other regions do not appear to have been linked to travel or contact with someone with the disease.
The outbreak in the United States and most Western countries has primarily affected men who have sex with men, but there have also been two documented cases in children and a few cisgender women. The virus is not exclusive to one group of people.
How is monkey pox treated?
Treatment for monkeypox usually involves supportive care. Most cases are mild and self-limiting. There are antivirals specifically designed to treat smallpox, but they’re usually reserved for severe cases, Adalja said.
Monkeypox is in the same viral family as smallpox, and the smallpox vaccine is incredibly effective at preventing disease and minimizing symptoms. Evidence suggests the vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox.
The vaccine may also work when given as post-exposure prophylaxis (meaning it can prevent disease or make it less severe, even after a person has been exposed). This is mainly how the vaccine is used now, since the World Health Organization declared smallpox eliminated in 1980.
Usually the vaccine is only given to people who have been in close contact with an infected person, ideally within four days to prevent illness and within 14 days to minimize symptoms.
The standard approach in monkeypox outbreaks involves isolating infected people and vaccinating everyone around them who has been in contact with an infected person. Epidemiologists call this strategy “ring vaccination“, and it is known to be an effective way to stop outbreaks before they can start.
Vaccine demand is now reaching a point where it exceeds supply, but US health officials plan to release an additional 1.6 million doses in the coming months, according to NPR. The availability of testing has also increased. Regions with increasing numbers of cases, such as New York, are offering the vaccine to people who are at higher risk of contracting the virus, such as healthcare workers and people who have had multiple sexual partners in recent weeks.
How Worried Should We Be About Monkeypox?
Right now it depends on government leaders and the public. Many experts fear that the United States is losing the opportunity to bring the virus under control.
“We are now on the verge of becoming an endemic virus, where it is now becoming something persistent that we have to continue to deal with,” Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said earlier this month. -this. “I think the window to take control of this and contain it has probably closed. And, if it hasn’t closed, it’s definitely starting to close.
Following the WHO declaration, the Biden administration is considering declaring monkeypox a health emergency in the United States. Nearly 3,000 Americans (and counting) have been infected.
The good news is that there are preventative measures people can take to control the outbreak and protect themselves. People should avoid close contact or share utensils, bedding, drinks and other personal items with people who have monkeypox-like rashes or who have known exposure to the virus. You should also wash your hands frequently. If you think you have been exposed or infected, self-isolate at home and contact your healthcare provider for treatment information.
But it will take more than just personal habits to make a difference. Access to tests, vaccines and a targeted public health approach that educates people will be needed. Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan, told NPR that containment should always be the goal of health officials and the public.
“What we do in the days and weeks to come will really determine where we are in a few months,” Malani said.
We must not let what happened with COVID ― where many have given up trying to prevent the spread ― happen with monkeypox.
This article has been updated with the latest developments. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but advice may change as health officials learn more about the outbreak. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.
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