Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis with symptoms similar to smallpox, although it is clinically less severe. The virus is transmitted to humans from animals, and it primarily occurs in central and west Africa. With the eradication of smallpox and the subsequent cessation of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has emerged as the most important orthopoxvirus for public health. In this blog post, we will discuss how you can protect yourself from monkeypox and prevent its spread.
Monkeypox virus is an enveloped double-stranded DNA virus that belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family. There are two distinct genetic clades of the monkeypox virus: the central African (Congo Basin) clade and the west African clade. The Congo Basin clade has historically caused more severe disease and was thought to be more transmissible.
Natural Host of Monkeypox Virus
Various animal species have been identified as susceptible to monkeypox virus. This includes rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates, and other species. Uncertainty remains on the natural history of monkeypox virus, and further studies are needed to identify the exact reservoir(s) and how virus circulation is maintained in nature.
Human monkeypox was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, most cases have been reported from rural, rainforest regions of the Congo Basin, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.
Monkeypox is a disease of global public health importance as it not only affects countries in West and Central Africa but the rest of the world. In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was in the United States of America and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs. Monkeypox has also been reported in travelers from Nigeria to Israel, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United States of America. In May 2022, multiple cases of monkeypox were identified in several non-endemic countries.
Animal-to-human (zoonotic) transmission can occur from direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. Eating inadequately cooked meat and other animal products of infected animals is a possible risk factor. People living in or near forested areas may have indirect or low-level exposure to infected animals.
Human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects. Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts health workers, household members, and other close contacts of active cases at greater risk. However, the longest documented chain of transmission in a community has risen in recent years from 6 to 9 successive person-to-person infections. This may reflect declining immunity in all communities due to cessation of smallpox vaccination. Transmission can also occur via the placenta from mother to fetus (which can lead to congenital monkeypox) or during close contact during and after birth.
Signs and Symptoms
The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from 6 to 16 days. The onset of symptoms is sudden, with fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, and fatigue. Within a few days, a rash develops, which progresses to papules (small raised bumps) and then to vesicles (small fluid-filled blisters). These lesions may become pustular (filled with pus) and then scab over and fall off, leaving a depressed scar. The rash typically begins on the face and then spreads to the trunk and limbs.
Other symptoms of monkeypox may include swollen lymph nodes, chills, sweats, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, complications may include secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Monkeypox can be difficult to distinguish from other infectious diseases, such as chickenpox, smallpox, and measles, based on clinical symptoms alone. Laboratory tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis of monkeypox.
Prevention and Control Measures
Currently, there is no specific treatment for monkeypox virus infection, and vaccination is not readily available. However, supportive care can be provided to manage symptoms and prevent complications. Therefore, prevention and control measures are crucial in reducing the risk of transmission and minimizing the impact of outbreaks. Here are some tips and prevention strategies to protect yourself from monkeypox:
- Avoid contact with sick animals: As monkeypox is primarily a zoonotic disease, it is important to avoid contact with sick animals, including rodents and primates, and their products, such as meat and blood. This is particularly important in areas where outbreaks have occurred.
- Practice good hygiene: Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, especially after handling animals or animal products, and after caring for a sick person. Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, as the virus can enter your body through these mucous membranes.
- Cover your mouth and nose: If you have a cough or a cold, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue in a bin immediately. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
- Wear protective clothing: If you work with animals or their products, wear protective clothing, such as gloves, gowns, and masks, to avoid direct contact with bodily fluids or lesions.
- Avoid bushmeat: Avoid eating bushmeat, which is meat from wild animals, as it may carry the virus. Cook all meat thoroughly before eating.
- Get vaccinated against smallpox: Although there is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, the smallpox vaccine can provide some protection against monkeypox. If you are traveling to an area where monkeypox is present, consider getting vaccinated against smallpox before you go.
- Seek medical attention: If you experience symptoms of monkeypox, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and rash, seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and the spread of the virus.
Monkeypox is a serious viral disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and from person to person. Although monkeypox is relatively rare, it is a disease of global public health concern, as it has the potential to cause outbreaks in different parts of the world. The best way to protect yourself from monkeypox is to avoid contact with sick animals and their products, practice good hygiene, wear protective clothing, and avoid eating bushmeat. If you experience symptoms of monkeypox, seek medical attention immediately. By taking these measures, we can help prevent the spread of monkeypox and protect ourselves and others from this disease.