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EXPLAINER: What is Monkeypox, What are the Symptoms?

Should you worry?
by Ara Eugenio
2 days ago
FILE PHOTO: A doctor examines a woman infected with monkeypox at a quarantine area of the centre of the International medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans frontieres - MSF), in Zomea Kaka, in the Lobaya region, in the Central African Republic on October 18, 2018.
Photo/s: Charles Bouessel, Agence Framce-Presse

Countries in Europe and North America have confirmed rare outbreaks of monkeypox as the world cautiously reopens from the pandemic, and with an expert panel that reopens to the WHO issuing a warning that authorities are unprepared for a new pandemic.

Health authorities are investigating the source of the moneypox infection and whether or not the cases are linked. 

The Philippines' health department on Friday said no case of the disease had been detected in the country so far.

"DOH is intensifying screening at our borders and ensuring that surveillance systems are actively monitong the situation," its statement read. 

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Here's what we know so far about this disease.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a "rare disease" that is caused by an infection with monkeypox virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae, which also includes the variola virus that causes smallpox, hence the two are often described as "cousins". Monkeypox is known to be less transmissible and less severe.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in a laboratory monkeys. According to a Reuters report, scientists are unsure if monkeys are the main carriers of the virus, making its name possibly a misnomer or a wrong designation. Recent theories point to smaller animals like rodents as possibly its main reservoir. 

According to the U.S. CDC, the first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Congo, back when it was still trying to eliminate smallpox. Since then, human infections of monkeypox have been common in remote parts of Central and West Africa.  

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Cases of the disease in people outside Africa are often linked to international travel or imported animals.

What are the symptoms?

People who catch Monkeypox would exhibit initial symptoms like fever, headaches, swellings, back pain, aching muscles and a general listlessness.

A rash can develop later starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash can be extremely itchy and would eventually form a scab that can lead to scarring. 

Like COVID, this disease is also usually self-limiting, with infection clearing up on its own until after 14 to 21 days.

While it generally less severe, monkeypox is still known to cause severe illness. In Africa, it has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease, with children being most likely to die.

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World Remains Unprepared to Face New Pandemics, Says Report

Rare Monkeypox Outbreaks Detected in North America, Europe

How different it is from COVID

Monkeypox does not spread easily from human to human, unlike COVID, which is spread through airborne particles and droplets.

Reuters reports that Monkeypox typically requires interaction with animals that carry the virus.

While it has not been described as a sexually transmitted infection, the UK Health Security Agency recently said it can be passed on by direct contact during sex, and that it can also be passed on through other close contact with a person who has monkeypox or with clothing or linens and other objects used by an infected person.

Four of seven cases in UK's May 2022 outbreak involve people who identify as gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. A UKHSA epidemiologist interpreted this as “highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks”, making this particular transmission different from previous outbreaks.

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This however, doesn't mean Monkeypox is now qualified as a sexually transmitted infection like HIV. As far as latest available data is concerned regarding the UK outbreak, what can be deduced is that close contact during sexual or intimate activity may have been a key factor for its transmission. 

Also unlike COVID, monkeypox is not known to spread asymptomatically.

In countries where cases are currently active, experts are saying there's no threat of a national outbreak yet and the public risk remains low.

However, it also true that evidence on monkeypox is still thin, and these outbreaks are expected to provide new information regarding the disease that further inform current public health measures around it.

Is there a cure?

Monkeypox has no treatment but like COVID, outbreaks can be controlled by various measures that prevent infection. 

The vaccine for smallpox has also been proven 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. 

Apart from smallpox vaccine, the U.S. CDC has highlighted the anti-viral drug cidofovir and vaccinia immune globulin as effective means to control a monkeypox outbreak.

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There is yet to be a specific vaccine to protect against monkeypox.

Experts say the spread of monkeypox again points to an unequal burden of the disease across the world, as low-income countries with limited access to healthcare are again at a disadvantage. 

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