Global health officials are concerned about the growing number of monkeypox cases in Europe and elsewhere, with one type of viral infection more common in West and Central Africa.
As of Friday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed and an additional 50 are under investigation in 11 countries. What is known about the current prevalence and relative risks of monkeypox is as follows:
How dangerous is it?
The U.S. public health official told reporters at a briefing on Friday that the general public’s risk is lower at this time.
Monkeypox is a virus that can cause symptoms, including fever, pain, and a distinct rash.
It is related to smallpox, but usually mild, especially strains of the West African virus that was detected in the United States, with a mortality rate of about 1%. Most people recover completely within two to four weeks, officials said.
The virus does not spread as easily as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that triggered the global COVID-19 epidemic.
Experts believe that the current outbreak of monkeypox is spread through close skin contact with a person who has an active rash. Experts say that once the infection is detected, it will be easier to detect its spread.
Dr. Martin Hirsch of Massachusetts General Hospital said, “COVID is spread by inhalation and is highly contagious. In the case of monkeypox, it does not seem to be the case.”
Many of the people diagnosed with the current monkeypox outbreak – but not all – are men who have sex with men, including one related to a sauna in the Madrid region of Spain.
Are health experts concerned?
Recent outbreaks reported so far are unusual, according to the WHO, as they occur in countries where the virus is not transmitted regularly. Scientists are trying to figure out if anything has changed about the source of the current case and the virus.
Most of the cases reported so far have been identified in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. Similar incidents have occurred in Canada and Australia, and a single case of monkeypox was confirmed in Boston, with public health officials saying there could be more cases in the United States.
WHO officials have expressed concern that further outbreaks could occur in Europe and elsewhere in the coming summer months as people gather for festivals, parties and holidays.
How can people protect against infection?
The UK has started vaccinating healthcare workers who may be at risk when caring for smallpox vaccine patients, which could also protect against monkeypox. The U.S. government says its Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) contains enough smallpox vaccines to vaccinate the entire U.S. population.
A spokesman for the US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that there were antiviral drugs for smallpox that could also be used to treat monkeypox in certain situations.
More broadly, health officials say people should avoid close personal contact with someone who has a rash or who is otherwise ill. Those who suspect they have monkeypox should seek medical attention separately.
What could be behind the spike in the case?
“Viruses are nothing new and expected,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Institute for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Rasmussen said a number of factors, including climate change as well as increased global travel, have accelerated the emergence and spread of the virus. He said the world is on high alert for any new outbreak in the wake of the Kovid epidemic.