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Monkeypox: Should we panic?

Greg Devine


Laboratory in check-up analysis blood test for smallpox Monkey infection blood test on new pandemic virus

You’ll have probably heard of this new virus, but before you fret that another pandemic is on the cards, there doesn’t seem reason enough to panic just yet; this one shouldn’t bring the world to a halt.

Monkeypox is a viral infection usually found in Western and Central Africa. Recently, it has spread into Europe, Australia and America, but only in small clusters. Bumps appear on the skin, similar to that of chickenpox, but much larger in size. Other symptoms, according to the NHS, include: a high temperature, a headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering (chills) and exhaustion. The rash usually develops 1-5 days after an individual experiences initial symptoms.

There have been claims that Monkeypox is sexually transmitted, but this is currently disputed. It’s commonly spread through close contact, especially skin to skin, so it’s understandable that some people think it’s an STI. It does appear to be spreading more quickly through gay and bisexual communities, but again, this hasn’t been officially confirmed.

As well as being spread through skin-to-skin contact, Monkeypox can be passed on by the sharing of towels and bedding, or exposure to the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Another way the virus can spread is via infected animals, such as rats, mice and squirrels, e.g. if humans come into contact with their blood or waste, or if they suffer a bite. It can also be spread through eating infected meat that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly or by touching any other by-product of an infected animal, such as its pelt.

Laboratory blood analysis test tube with infected blood test for disease Monkeypox new pandemic virus

Laboratory blood analysis test tube with infected blood test for disease Monkeypox new pandemic virus

Monkeypox itself is thought to be quite mild, with recovery taking between 2-4 weeks. Isolation is required, however, should you be diagnosed, given that close contact is the main cause of spreading. There’s also thought to be two variants of Monkeypox; the one appearing in Central Africa being more severe than that of the West African variant.

There is some good news. Studies have suggested that a smallpox vaccine is effective against Monkeypox. This vaccine has already been offered to those at risk of contracting the virus, including some health workers. The smallpox vaccine essentially eradicated the disease in the UK, to the point where the vaccine isn’t offered anymore, as it’s no longer required. The arrival of Monkeypox isn’t likely to change this situation, especially given that a ring vaccination strategy has been deployed. This is when an infected group, and those close to them, are vaccinated, to hopefully create a circular block on the vaccine and stop its spread.

More information will be released as the World Health Organisation and other authorities continue their research. It’s definitely something to keep abreast of, but at the moment, Monkeypox is not something we need to worry too much about.

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