by Dr Makini McGuire-Brown
Since the pandemic made everyone super aware of what some viruses can truly do, there is a sense of being on high alert when any new disease or new cases of infections are revealed. One such revelation is Monkeypox. So because I’m a language fanatic and because names can either be really helpful or really misleading, let’s talk about that name Monkeypox because it leans into the misleading category. Firstly, it’s only called Monkeypox because the virus was isolated first in monkeys in a laboratory. However, the virus does not only exist in monkeys but in many other animals from the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding nations. There is no one animal that the virus exists in and has been found in rodents, squirrels, porcupines and more. Secondly, Monkeypox and Chickenpox are not the same family of viruses. Monkeypox is NOT a similar virus to Chickenpox but instead a similar virus to Smallpox, which in fact most people aren’t very familiar with because Smallpox has been mostly eradicated. Monkeypox is nowhere as deadly or virulent as Smallpox though and really Monkeypox is not well known because there have not been a whole lot of cases anywhere outside of the few African nations that it is endemic in.
So how scared should we be about the new Monkeypox outbreaks. Monkeypox is not highly infectious and most cases are really animal to animal or animal to human transmission. It is transmitted through direct contact with these infected animals and sometimes through infected undercooked meat. Human to human transmission is suspected but was not a main route of transmission previously. It seems that this may be changing as the numbers of cases are increasing in a virus that was previously rarely seen outside of Africa and was previously almost always associated with coming intodirect contact with an infected animal. All this to say that new cases of Monkeypox are being researched because viruses of course like to mutate (learn basic viral knowledge in our previous articles), and there is a new surge in cases outside of the usual area and that may be happening from human to human transmission, but as of now it is still not considered a highly infectious virus, compared to many others. New cases in new places in the world likely have a lot to do with travelling in our increasingly globalised world and of course exploring deeper into jungle areas.
Most commonly people get pustules on the skin, fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, sore throat and and ill feeling. Symptoms can take as much as 2-3 weeks after exposure to appear. Like most viruses the disease is self-limiting and usually ends on its own in 2 weeks or so. Of course like, other viruses, treating the symptoms may be important, especially in those more susceptible to severe illness, those with co-morbidities, that is, other illnesses that they are already sick with. Lots of fluids and fever reduction as well as rest are always important. The danger to susceptible people comes mostly in the form of additional infection. So while the body is busy fighting off Monkeypox, if the immune system is not well equipped as it often isn’t in those with underlying conditions, the patient can get another infection which can lead to severe morbidity or mortality.
So Monkeypox virus continues to be researched to learn more about it and one must always be on the look out for viruses that are beginning to pop up more and more often. But for now, we’re not looking at a Monkeypox pandemic (I hope I won’t have to eat my words a few months from now!).