Everything You Wanted to Know About Monkeypox

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a statement that he is, deeply concerned by the spread of monkeypox (WHO, 2022).

From January 2022 to 22 August 2022, 41 664 monkeypox cases have been confirmed in laboratories. Monkeypox has so far caused 12 deaths and has been found in 96 countries/areas/territories across all six WHO Regions (Groome, 2022).

We’ve all heard rumours about this virus, seen the controversy about the name and the pictures plastered across newspapers. So what is this virus, why is there drama, and what’s got the experts and journalists ringing the alarm bells?

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox, a disease that jumped from animals to humans (a zoonotic disease) which is caused by an orthopoxvirus, and results in a smallpox-like disease in humans (Bunge et al., 2022).

How Can I Catch Monkeypox? = Through an animal or another person

You can catch it from an infected animal, usually from a rodent (WHO, 2022). This could happen by touching its blood, bodily fluids or by making skin contact (WHO, 2022).

To catch the virus from another human, you would need to be in close contact with their blood, bodily fluids, have touched a recently contaminated object, or be a baby in the womb of an infected mother (Farahat et al., 2022; WHO, 2022).

To catch it from respiratory droplets, you’d have to be in very close contact with the infected person for a long time (WHO, 2022).

Is Monkeypox An STI? = It’s Complicated

Scientists think it may be commonly infecting people during sexual intercourse (Farahat et al., 2022).

This strange transmission pattern has recently led to some scientists to speculate that the virus may be behaving like a sexually transmitted infection (Rodriguez-Morales, & Lopardo, 2022).

But as of yet, it has not been classified as one (NICD, 2022).

Is Monkeypox Like COVID? = No

But what must be understood, as many of us feel like we have PTSD from the COVID pandemic, this is not a new COVID.

It’s something very different.

This virus is not very contagious (NICD, 2022). Frankly, monkeypox is not very good at transmitting between humans (NICD, 2022). Plus, it’s really rare for it to spread between asymptomatic people (Farahat et al., 2022). With infections happening only once symptoms begin to show (Farahat et al., 2022).

Who Is Most At Risk For Monkeypox?

Historically = people in close contact with animals

Monkeypox was an illness that, for a long time, was believed to only infect people via animals (Rodriguez-Morales, & Lopardo, 2022).

In West Africa people got it from rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice, different species of monkeys, etc (WHO, 2022). The main host that is spreading monkeypox to humans has not been proven, but scientists suspect it may be rodents like rats (WHO, 2022).

Seen from left to right, a rope squirrel, an African Tree Squirrel, a Gambian Poached rat, & the Samango Monkey (an example of a West African Monkey). In the bottom left corner, that’s a little dormouse.

In 2022 = Something has changed

During the 2022 multi-country outbreak, the virus has been spreading through human-to-human transmission (Rodriguez-Morales, & Lopardo, 2022). The people that have been passing it along have predominately been non-travellers, who to a large extent are men who have sex with men (Rodriguez-Morales, & Lopardo, 2022).

According to Rodriguez-Morales, and Lopardo (2022), some studies early data is suggesting that the risk factors for catching monkeypox are:

Being a young man between 18 and 44 years old (Groome, 2022)
Having sex with other men,
& engaging in risky behaviours and activities.

The activities that put people at risk include (Rodriguez-Morales, & Lopardo, 2022):

● Condom-less sex,

● Being HIV positive,

● And having a history of previous STI infections, including syphilis.

What Do Other Experts Say?

Studies don’t all just ‘agree’.

There was another group of researchers who looked into community transmission in the UK from April to May 2022 (Vivancos et al., 2022). Their study suggested that although sexual contact is a risk factor, so are:

● People on a flight with a positive case,

● Healthcare workers treating an infected patient,

● Or close family members or friends of someone infected (Vivancos et al., 2022).

Plus, it should be remembered that anyone – regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation – can catch monkeypox if they have close contact with someone infected with the virus (Vivancos et al., 2022).

What Are The Symptoms Of Monkeypox?

The early symptoms are fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, chills and exhaustion (NICD, 2022).

After 1-3 days of the fever, a rash may form that initially looks like pimples, but changes into almost a blister like apperance (NICD, 2022). This rash can be found on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body (NICD, 2022).

The rash kind of happens all at the same time, and lasts until the scab falls off (NICD, 2022).

How To Treat Monkeypox

Monkeypox generally goes away on its own. Most patients treat the symptoms and might get a prescription from a doctor to treat pain, fever and discomfort (NICD, 2022).

Like many other illnesses, it’s important to keep hydrated and not scratch or burst the blisters, as they might get infected and/or scar (NICD, 2022). It’s not like chickenpox where the spots are itchy but when they start to scab at the end of the infection, that’s when you have to be careful not to scratch (NICD, 2022).

So far, this ongoing outbreak has predominantly been happening in the UK and other European and non-European countries.

From 1 January to 22 August 2022, there have been 41 664 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox ; but in total, only 404 confirmed cases are from Africa during this recent outbreak (Groome, 2022).

And only 5 of those infections have been in South Africa (Groome, 2022). The 2 of the cases were reported from Gauteng, 2 were from the Western Cape and 1 was from Limpopo (Groome, 2022).

Is Monkeypox In South Africa? = Yes, but only 5 cases have been confirmed so far

What To Do If You Think You Have Monkeypox

Get seen by a doctor or someone at a clinic if you think you may have been exposed or are showing symptoms. This is mostly to help our country contain this virus and prevent it infecting those in our country with HIV (NICD, 2022).

Why Are Experts Alarmed?

When the director general of the WHO said he was concerned, he was talking about the scale and speed of the current outbreak and how many unknowns we have about this virus. Like the sudden change in its infection pattern (WHO, 2022).

This virus’s increased prevalence in humans, particularly those with compromised immune systems, may provide more opportunity for monkeypox to acquire mutations that increase its fitness in human hosts (Sklenovská, & Van Ranst, 2018). This could possibly lead to increased infectivity, harmfulness, and increased percentage of people that develop symptoms after an exposure (Sklenovská, & Van Ranst, 2018).

Although monkeypox has been circulating in a number of African countries for decades, it has not received the research, attention and funding it should have (WHO, 2022).

This must change, not just for monkeypox but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries, as the world has been reminded again that our health is interconnected.

Monkeypox & Global Warming May Be Connected

Scientists are becoming increasingly worried that because many zoonotic (animal) viruses are highly impacted by the weather. Climate change is shaking up who these viruses affect, and where they affect people (Sipari et al., 2022).

In just one example, Sipari et al., (2022) study, showed that Global warming is making winters in the Arctic tundra and boreal forest regions, warmer, wetter and more unstable.

Warmer and wetter winters increase the amount of rodents that survive hibernation. These rodents often carry diseases, so basically more ‘bank voles’ for example, means more Lyme disease, and deer fly fever.

This could offer one explanation why diseases like monkeypox are rapidly changing their infection patterns (Sipari et al., 2022).

Why Was Controversy Around Monkeypox?

Basically, Monkeypox has been a bit of a storm of stigma and racism.

This was firstly linked to the name ‘Monkeypox’.

The name goes against many of the WHO’s own rules, which prohibit naming a virus after an animal, so it’s officially going in for a name change. Although as many South Africans know too well, after Omicron was labelled the ‘South African variant’, the damage is felt for a while.

Secondly, to quite a bit of racism linked to disease and skin colour.

The Foreign Press Association of Africa had to ask western media to stop using photos of Black people to highlight what the condition looks like in stories about the US or UK.

As they said in this eloquent tweet, it’s completely ridiculous, and illogical to use black bodies to display a disease that is mainly affecting those in the west. It would be just as easy to show pictures of the virus under a microscope or hospitals in Europe.

The Way Forward

With one of the largest population, HIV positive people in the world. It would be really dangerous if Monkeypox because more prevalent.

Monkeypox is not even close to the level of contagiousness of COVID-19, but for those with a weak immune system it could be risky.

The best thing we can do right now is prevent infections, isolate those that have been infected and continue contact tracing.

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