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What is Monkeypox, is it another epidemic?

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

It was not long before we all faced the most difficult time, some people lost their lives, some their jobs during the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus and now there is another news of the re-emergence of the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox is not novel but according to the experts the infection is ‘random’ but ‘containable’. To date worldwide 250+ confirmed cases are observed. Although the number of confirmed cases seems minimal still all health officials and diplomats are on alert since the first case noticed in the United Kingdom didn’t have any prior travel history to Africa thus cue that the patient got infected with the virus in England. It's obvious to have a lot of questions related to the monkeypox virus, especially after the recent unusual outbreak, so let’s investigate monkeypox and find out the answers to questions like:

what is Monkeypox? Why is it called monkeypox? Which family of viruses does monkeypox belong to? What are the symptoms of Monkeypox? How does monkeypox spread for one person to another? Is Monkeypox deadly to human beings?

What is Monkeypox? Which family of viruses does it belong to?

Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) caused by a virus that may be harboured by rodents and primates in rainforest areas of west and central Africa which infect humans.


Unranked: virus

Kingdom: Bamfordvirae

Phylum: Nucleocytoviricota

Class: Pokkesviricetes

Order: Chitovirales

Family: Poxviridae

Genus: Orthopoxvirus

Species: Monkeypox virus

Monkeypox virus is an enveloped double-stranded DNA virus which belongs to the same genus which also includes the smallpox virus. So far, two genetic clades of the monkeypox virus are known 1) the Central African (Congo Basin) clades which have a fatality rate of 1% 2) the West African clade which has a fatality rate of 10%. The patients in the UK are suffering from Central African clades.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus didn’t get the name monkeypox because it is spread from monkeys to humans or monkeys are the major carriers, instead, in 1958 first two documented cases of pox like disease were noticed in the colonies of monkeys kept for research hence the name (according to CDC). Although the natural reservoir (host) of monkeypox is still unknown it is suspected that monkeypox infects humans when they come in close contact with the carrier rodents like squirrels, pouched rats, dormice etc. Further, the first case of Monkeypox was identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a 9-year-old boy where smallpox was eradicated in 1968.

How does Monkeypox transmission take place within a community?

Most commonly the transmission of the Monkeypox virus takes place from animal to human by directly encountering the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals or material contaminated with the virus. People living near the forest area indirectly are at higher risk of exposure to infected animals. Mainly virus enters the human body through broken skin, respiratory tract, or mucous membrane.

Human to Human transmission

  • Close contact with respiratory secretions (Prolong face-to-face contact)

  • Skin lesions of an infected person

  • Contact with a recently contaminated object

  • Placenta from mother to fetus (congenital monkeypox)

  • Close physical contact

  • Indirect contact through lesion materials

The earlier outbreaks of monkeypox didn’t confirm the sexual transmission of the virus but the recent outbreak is through the novel transmission route i.e., sexual contact especial sexual relations between gay and bisexual couples. Therefore, North America and Europe have released an advisory for the LGBTQ community.

What are the Symptoms of Monkeypox ?

The symptoms of Monkeypox are similar to Smallpox but they are not as severe as smallpox.

Mainly monkeypox begins with:

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Muscle aches.

  • Backache.

  • Swollen lymph nodes.

  • Chills.

  • Exhaustion.

The only difference between the symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is monkeypox leads to lymph node swelling (lymphadenopathy) which smallpox doesn’t cause. After the infection, it takes 7-14 or it may range between 5-21 days for the onset of the symptoms. Within 1-3 days of onset of symptoms like fever, the patient develops a rash that mostly begins on the face and then spreads to different parts of the body.

Lesions progress through the following stages before falling off:

  • Macules

  • Papules

  • Vesicles

  • Pustules

  • Scabs

Generally, the illness caused by the nasty monkeypox virus lasts for 2-4 weeks.

Is Monkeypox deadly to human beings?

As discussed earlier the clade which is spreading across 19+ countries is the central African clade which kills 1 person out of 10 infected persons thus fatality rate is far lower than the pandemic of COVID-19 we are still facing. The monkey virus is not new it’s been known for the last 5 decades and on top of all smallpox vaccines like cidofovir, ST-246, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) is 85% effective against monkeypox and can be used to control the outbreak. All these facts clearly state that Monkeypox is not deadly as COVID-19; then why there is a panic state among WHO and other officials?

The answer behind the worries of officials lies in the fact that monkeypox is a virus and viruses can quickly mutate to change their proteins and entirely themselves into some other variant as we have seen in the case of Corona. The novel route of sexual transmission and no prior history of travel to Africa of the patients who first got the disease provides the intuition of mutation. Nevertheless, the vaccines which are 85% effective against Monkeypox have not been discovered for it instead the vaccination drive was for the eradication of smallpox. In 1980, WHO declared the eradication of smallpox and since then no natural cases of smallpox took place thus the vaccination drive was also discontinued for the children in most parts of the world. Hence, the generation after the 1980 does not have a memory of predeveloped antibodies against smallpox which can become handy and protect against Monkeypox. Therefore, there are chances that this virus can spread among people from one place to another through human-to-human contact and take a shape of an epidemic.

Nevertheless, officials are alert and they made 21 days quarantine mandatory among the suspects, released various advisory among the people, and began with vaccination among health workers and high-risk groups.

How can we prevent ourselves from the monkey virus?

We always have a choice to protect ourselves might be in the case of a COVID-19 pandemic or with the outbreak of Monkeypox moreover prevention is better than cure. If you feel you are at risk, you can take precautions like wearing a mask in the public, and self-limiting yourself.

Reference : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO

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