Over the weekend, President Biden said everyone should be concerned about a recent outbreak of Monkeypox in Europe. So far, there have been 92 cases confirmed, with just one of those being in the United States. A man in Boston tested positive last week.
And while Monkeypox is only occasionally fatal, the rapid spread of the disease outside of Africa has raised alarm bells among medical professionals that we could be facing another possible pandemic.
So what exactly is Monkeypox and just how concerned should you be? Let’s take a look at the history of Monkeypox and some of the key facts about it.
What is Monkeypox?
According to the CDC, Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with Monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae. The Orthopoxvirus genus also includes variola virus (which causes smallpox), vaccinia virus (used in the smallpox vaccine), and cowpox virus.
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Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘Monkeypox.’ The first human case of Monkeypox was not recorded until 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then Monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.
Monkeypox in the US
Monkeypox is very rare in the United States, but it has happened. There were two confirmed travel-related cases in 2021 prior to the most recent confirmed case in Boston earlier this month. But in 2003, forty-seven confirmed and probable casesexternal icon of Monkeypox were reported in six states—Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. All people infected with Monkeypox in this outbreak became ill after having contact with pet prairie dogs. The pets were infected after being housed near imported small mammals from Ghana. This was the first time that human Monkeypox was reported outside of Africa.
How is it transmitted in humans?
Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required. Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens.
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox, but milder. An infection typically begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and Monkeypox is that Monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell while smallpox does not. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for Monkeypox is usually 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days, according to the CDC.
Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.
The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks. In Africa, Monkeypox has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease.
Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for Monkeypox virus infection. For purposes of controlling a Monkeypox outbreak in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used.
You can learn more about Monkeypox on the Centers for Disease Control website.