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How do you catch monkeypox?
Until this global outbreak, monkeypox was mostly spread by infected rodents — including rats, mice and even squirrels — in western and central Africa.
People can get the disease — which comes from the same family as smallpox — if they are bitten by infected animals, touch their blood, body fluids or scabs, or eat game or bushmeat.
The orthopox virus, which causes monkey pox, can enter the body through broken skin – even if it is not visible, as well as the eyes, nose and mouth.
Despite being mainly spread by wild animals, monkeypox was known to be able to be transmitted between humans. However, health leaders insist it was very rare until the current outbreak.
Person-to-person spread can occur if someone touches clothing or bedding that has been used by an infected person, or through direct contact with the virus’s tell-tale scabs. The virus can also spread through coughing and sneezing.
In the continuing rise in the number of cases, experts think the virus passes skin-to-skin contact during sex – although this exact mechanism has never been seen until now.
How deadly is it?
Monkeypox is usually mild and most patients recover without treatment within a few weeks.
Yet the disease kills up to 10 percent of cases. But this high rate is thought to be partly due to a historical lack of testing, meaning that a tenth of known cases have died rather than a tenth of all infections.
However, in milder species, the death rate is closer to one in 100 — similar to when Covid first struck.
The West African version of the virus, which is mild compared to the Central African strain, is behind the current spread. No deaths have been reported as part of the ongoing outbreak.
How is it tested?
It can be difficult to diagnose monkeypox as it is often confused with other infections such as chickenpox.
But when a case is suspected, doctors send samples to their local health authorities to be tested for orthopoxviruses — the family of viruses that includes monkeypox and smallpox. If the result is positive, the sample is then sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or a private lab for confirmatory testing.
The test involves taking samples of skin lesions, such as part of the scab, fluid leaking out, or pieces of dry scab.
What are the symptoms?
It can take up to three weeks for monkeypox-infected patients to develop any of the tell-tale symptoms.
Early signs of the virus include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion — meaning it could theoretically be mistaken for other common illnesses.
But the most unusual feature is a rash that often starts on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, usually the hands and feet.
The rash changes and goes through several stages before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.
How long is someone contagious?
A person is contagious from the time their rash appears until all the scabs have fallen off and there is intact skin underneath.
The scabs may also contain infectious virus material.
The contagious period is thought to last three weeks, but it can vary from person to person.
What should I do if I have symptoms?
The CDC advises anyone with an unexplained rash or other warning sign to contact their health care provider for a medical assessment and monkey pox test. Anyone who is not insured should go to a public health clinic.
Suspicious patients should also avoid close contact — including sex or being intimate — with others, they add.
When they visit a clinic, it is also advised to wear a mask and remind the health care provider that the virus is circulating in the area. Gay and bisexual men have been asked to be extra vigilant about symptoms, as most cases have been identified in men who have sex with men.
What is even monkey pox?
Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a smallpox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research in 1958.
The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the infection has since been reported in a number of Central and West African countries.
Only a handful of cases have been reported outside of Africa and these have been limited to those with travel connections to the continent.
The UK, US, Israel and Singapore are the only countries to have detected the virus before May 2022.
But as testing ramped up worldwide, cases were quickly discovered in other countries, including the first case in the US in May involving a man who had recently returned from Canada by car.
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that kills up to one in ten of those infected, but does not spread easily between people. The tropical disease is endemic to parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions (file photo)
Nurses and physicians are advised to remain alert to patients presenting with a new rash or scabby lesions (as above)
Does it have to do with chickenpox?
Despite causing a similar rash, chickenpox is not related to monkeypox.
The infection, which usually affects children, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
In comparison, monkeypox – like smallpox – is an orthopox virus. Due to this link, smallpox vaccines also provide protection against monkeypox.
Are young people more vulnerable?
According to the World Health Organization, Americans under the age of 50 may be more susceptible to monkey pox.
This is because, until 1972, children in America were routinely offered the smallpox shot, which protects against monkeypox. The program was discontinued when smallpox was eradicated.
The WHO also warns that the death rate among young children has been higher.
Does it spread as easily as Covid?
Leading experts insist we won’t see Covid-like transmission levels in the monkeypox outbreak.
A report from the World Health Organization last year suggested that the virus’s natural R rate — the number of people each patient would infect if they lived normally while sick — is two.
This is lower than the original Wuhan variant of Covid and about a third of the R percentage of the Indian ‘Delta’ strain.
But the actual rate is likely much lower because “distinguishing symptoms greatly aid early detection and containment,” the team said, meaning it’s easy to spot and isolate cases.
Covid is mainly spread through droplets that an infected person gives off when he breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes.
There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that seem to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, or TPOXX, which was approved in the U.S. for monkeypox in August
Is there a vaccine for it?
The smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in the UK and Jynneos in the US, may protect against monkeypox because the viruses behind the diseases are closely related.
Data shows that it occurs in about 85 percent of cases and has been used in the US since 2019.
The shot, which is estimated to cost $24.16 per dose, contains a modified live vaccinia virus, which is similar to both smallpox and monkeypox, but does not cause disease in humans.
Due to its similarity to the poxviruses, antibodies produced against this virus provide cross protection.
Are there medications to treat it?
There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that seem to work on monkeypox.
This includes the drug tecovirimat — also known as TPOXX — which was approved in the US for use against monkey pox in August.
Tecovirimat prevents the virus from leaving an infected cell, hindering the spread of the virus in the body.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an injectable antiviral drug used to treat AIDS called cidofovir can be used to control the infection.
It also works by stopping the growth of the virus.