Explained: Monkey Pox Virus; Over 9 Countries Report Cases

US, UK, Australia, Spain, Portugal, Canada, France, Italy, Sweden have reported cases of this zoonotic virus that is normally endemic to Central and West Africa

Australia confirmed the first case of the zoonotic monkey pox virus becoming the ninth country to report the presence of this virus in the last few days.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain have reported cases or have suspected infections of the virus whose source of origin is yet unknown. Normally endemic to Central and West Africa, it is found in rodents, dogs, marsupials, and primates, and transmits through them to humans when in close contact.

While UK was the first country to report the presence of the virus on May 7, there has also been local transmission among citizens. The United Kingdom Health Security Agency reported that the primary case had a travel history to Nigeria.

Nigeria has been a hotbed of cases of monkey pox. According to the WHO, from September 2017 to 30 April 2022, Nigeria has reported a total of 558 suspected cases from 32 states in the country.

UK also reported four other cases were reported with no travel history and they acquired the infection locally. This local transmission also raised questions on whether the virus is transmitting through sexual contact as all of the men belonged to gay, bisexual, men having sex with men group and were attending Sexual Health Services and presented with a vesicular rash. Even though the disease has not been associated to sexual contact earlier but close proximity, Dr. Susan Hopkins of the UKHSA has requested the GBSM community to reach out to health authorities if they witness any rashes on the body.

In Portugal, all the cases have only been reported among men. US reported its first case among a traveller from Canada. Australia reported its first case from a traveller returning from UK. Sweden reported a case in Stockholm while Italy reported case in a man returning from Canary Islands. Both France and Spain have suspected infections that are being studied through the RTPCR reports.

How Threatening Is The Monkey Pox Virus?

The UKHSA reported that the first few people who were diagnosed with the virus had recovered.

Like the SARS- CoV- 2 virus, the source of the virus is yet unknown, but it is caused by the monkeypox virus, a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae. It is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.

The virus is very similar to the small pox virus which has now been eradicated. Even though belonging to the same scientific genus, the monkey pox virus is considered to be less contagious along with less severity. The virus has two distinctive strains that are named after the African regions the virus was discovered. The currently prevalent West Africa strain is not as threatening as the Congo basin strain.

First discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, the younger population is more susceptible to the virus. Endemic to Africa, the first ever case outside the continent was reported in 2003 in the United States. This case was linked to an infected pet prairie dog that was kept with rats in Ghana and led to an outbreak of more than 70 cases.

How Is The Virus Detected?

Similar to small pox, the symptoms of monkey pox include the onset of fever, presence of rashes, and even swelling of lymph nodes. The rashes appear 1-3 days after the fever. and the person observes symptoms for 5-21 days.

Complications of monkeypox can include secondary infections, bronchopneumonia, sepsis, encephalitis, and infection of the cornea with ensuing loss of vision. The extent to which asymptomatic infection may occur is unknown. According to the WHO, the case fatality ratio of monkeypox has historically ranged from 0 to 11 per cent in the general population and has been higher among young children. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3-6 per cent.

After the rashes, the virus has to be detected in the laboratory genetically. Microbiologists test the specimen taken from the skin lesions through an RT-PCR test.

Are There Any Treatments For The Monkey Pox Virus?

Vaccines against small pox are normally effective against monkey pox too. However, globally, after small pox was eradicated, the distribution of the vaccine has decreased. Due to the decreased distribution, the WHO believes those under the age of 45-50 are susceptible to contracting the monkey pox virus.

To ensure that the lack of small pox vaccines does not affect treatment or prevention against the virus, a newer vaccine based on a modified attenuated vaccinia virus (Ankara strain) was approved for the prevention of monkeypox in 2019. This is a two-dose vaccine but its availability and circulation is limited.

The WHO says that patients should be offered fluids and food to maintain adequate nutritional status. The European Medicines Agency approved an antiviral agent known as tecovirimat that was developed for smallpox for monkeypox in 2022 based on data in animal and human studies. As it has just been approved, the agent is not widely available.

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