The monkeypox outbreak now has over 250 confirmed cases, and well over 120 suspected cases worldwide, in 23 nations where the virus is not endemic. Monkeypox is commonly found in 5 African countries, but the rapid rise in cases in other nations is unusual behaviour for the virus.
What Is Monkeypox
The monkeypox illness is caused by the monkeypox virus. It is a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox, but is less severe. Monkeypox is usually found in fairly remote parts of central and west Africa in tropical rainforest regions.
There are two strains of monkeypox, one in west Africa and the other in central Africa. The west African strain is less severe than the central African strain. It is the less severe west African strain that is spreading around the world currently.
The incubation period for monkeypox is usually 6-13 days. This means that you can be infected without showing any symptoms for this period of time. After the incubation period, the initial symptoms of monkeypox are:
- Muscular aches and pains
- Back pain
Later, a rash can develop. The rash usually begins on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, often hands and feet. The rash can be painful or itchy. Eventually, the rash becomes scabs which then fall off, sometimes leaving scars.
Monkeypox spreads by close contact with an infected person or animal. It also spreads through contact with contaminated items, for example an infected person’s clothing. The virus can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth, or through any cuts or breaks in the skin.
Where Did The Monkeypox Outbreak Start?
Monkeypox is endemic in 5 countries in central and western Africa. Monkeypox cases associated with the current outbreak are now in 23 other nations.
Authorities consider that the initial spread may have come from two large events, one in Belgium and the other in Gran Canaria. There were large numbers of people in close proximity to each other during the events, as well as people taking part in potentially risky sex. This would have allowed monkeypox to spread from one or two people to many others.
It is likely that infected people travelled to the events in Belgium and Gran Canaria from western Africa. Large numbers of people in close contact at the events would have allowed the virus to spread among them.
Why Is The Monkeypox Outbreak Spreading?
People from many different areas of the world travelled to the events that may have started the current Monkeypox outbreak. Many people may have been exposed to the virus, and then travelled home before symptoms appeared. The infection is now spreading within communities from the people exposed at those initial sources.
The behaviour of the virus during the monkeypox outbreak is different from its normal behaviour in that it has appeared in many different countries simultaneously. However, the virus has simply been given a route to different countries rather than mutating to spread more easily.
Differences Between Monkeypox And Covid-19
After the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is more aware of the spread of any virus. However, the monkeypox outbreak is different from Covid-19.
The most important difference between monkeypox and Covid-19 is that monkeypox is not new. We know the virus and understand its behaviour. We even have a vaccine, the smallpox vaccine, that works against monkeypox.
Another difference between monkeypox and Covid-19 is that we understand how monkeypox is transmitted. Monkeypox is not as easily transmitted between people as Covid-19. To catch monkeypox from another person, you have to be in close physical contact with them. Covid-19 spreads more easily as an aerosol, rather than purely by physical contact.
There is one difference between monkeypox and Covid-19 that helps the spread of monkeypox. The long incubation period of 6-13 days means that monkeypox can spread undetected. You could be in contact with an infected person who does not even realise that they are infected.
Is The Monkeypox Outbreak Going To Become A Pandemic?
It is likely that the spread of monkeypox will continue. However, it is spreading much more slowly than Covid-19. It is also treatable, and the west African strain that is currently spreading is relatively mild.
The smallpox vaccines provide some protection against monkeypox. If the monkeypox outbreak continues to spread, a vaccination program will help to control it. It is unlikely that the current monkeypox outbreak will become a pandemic of Covid-19 proportions.