These Are the Telltale Signs of Monkeypox, Doctors Warn
The first case of the virus in the latest outbreak was recently reported in the U.S.
In terms of looming health concerns, it's not a stretch to say COVID-19 has largely dominated the public's attention for the past two years. And while the virus remains a serious issue, it also hasn't stopped other potential health crises from developing. This includes the recent outbreak of monkeypox that has caught the attention of health officials in some countries. But what is this virus, and what kind of threat does it pose? Read on to find out more about monkeypox, including its telltale signs and the symptoms it causes.
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A monkeypox outbreak has led to dozens of cases across five countries.
The virus that causes monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when an outbreak occurred within a colony of research monkeys, giving it its name, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a close relative to the now eradicated smallpox virus, it's believed that widespread vaccination helped curb human cases for decades, according to an article written by researchers in 2005. However, the scientists also posited that waning immunity in the population brought about a resurgence in human cases. The disease has since been reported in several central and West African countries, per the CDC.
The most recent outbreak began when a case was reported in the U.K. on May 7 in a person who had just returned from a trip to Nigeria. Since then, there have been 68 reported cases that have spread across Portugal, Spain, and Canada. Most recently, a case was confirmed in the U.S. in a patient in Massachusetts after he returned from a trip to Canada, the BBC reports.
Experts say the virus doesn't usually spread this easily from person to person.
Typically, monkeypox spreads to people through a bite, scratch, or close contact with an infected animal, NPR reports. But while monkeypox can spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person—especially through contaminated clothing or bedding—the CDC writes that "human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets" which "generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required."
Fortunately, unlike COVID-19, the transmission of the virus from person to person is relatively uncommon, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA). But Susan Hopkins, MD, the agency's chief medical adviser, called the recent outbreak "rare and unusual," adding that it was "rapidly investigating the source of these infections because the evidence suggests that there may be transmission of the monkeypox virus in the community, spread by close contact."
Specifically, the agency appears to be looking into whether a previously unknown form of transmission is possible. "What is even more bizarre is finding cases that appear to have acquired the infection via sexual contact," Mateo Prochazka, an epidemiologist at the UKHSA, tweeted, per NPR. "This is a novel route of transmission that will have implications for outbreak response and control."
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Monkeypox typically causes several noticeable symptoms in those it infects.
According to the CDC, there are a few signs that someone has become infected with monkeypox. The agency says that the virus causes symptoms similar to smallpox that are milder in comparison, typically beginning with fever, headache, muscle aches, backaches, chills, and exhaustion. One notable difference is that monkeypox also causes swelling in the lymph nodes while smallpox does not. The agency also notes that the incubation period from infection to the first signs of sickness usually ranges from seven to 14 days but can be as long as five to 21 days.
One to three days after the onset of initial symptoms, infected people will begin to develop a rash with lesions that often start on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. Typically, the pustules will burst and scab over before falling off. The virus normally runs its course anywhere from two to four weeks for most patients, according to the CDC.
Officials are still investigating the virus' risk factor to the public but remain optimistic.
Even though most patients recover from monkeypox, the virus can still be deadly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two major strains of the virus differ in patient outcomes: The more severe Congo Basin strain, which is fatal in one in ten people it infects, and a more mild West African strain, which kills one in 100 patients, per The Washington Post.
Fortunately, the UKHSA reports that the seven reported cases in the U.K. so far appear to be caused by the milder version of the virus. And according to health officials in Massachusetts, "the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition."
While experts still have questions on the potential new forms of transmission, most remain cautiously optimistic that the recent rise in cases likely doesn't pose a serious health threat. "I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low," Tom Inglesby, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Post.
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