The rare monkeypox virus, which is usually confined mostly to central and western Africa, has spread in unusual ways this year, and among populations that were not susceptible to infection in the past.
But while the transfers have sparked some concern among officials and infectious disease experts, and while the Covid-exhausted world is on high alert for new outbreaks, there are several reasons why monkeypox is not being treated with the same level of concern as the coronavirus.
Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox and the risks it poses.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that is endemic in parts of central and western Africa. It is a milder version of smallpox.
It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What are the symptoms?
Monkeypox results in a rash that begins with flat red marks that rise and fill with pus. Affected people also have fever and body aches.
Symptoms usually appear within six to 13 days but can take up to three weeks after exposure. It can last for two to four weeks, with severe cases occurring more commonly in children, according to the World Health Organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is “no confirmed, safe treatment” for monkeypox, but the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of smallpox vaccines and antiviral treatments to control the outbreak.
How contagious is it?
It usually does not lead to major outbreaks – in most years there are few, if any, cases outside Africa. The most severe outbreak in the United States came in 2003, when dozens of cases were linked to exposure to infected prairie dogs and other pets. This was the first time an outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Within Africa, 11 countries have reported cases since 1970, when the first human case was identified in a 9-year-old child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The World Health Organization said Nigeria has seen a major outbreak, with more than 500 suspected cases and 200 confirmed cases since 2017.
The virus can spread through body fluids, skin contact, and respiratory droplets. The majority of cases this year were of young men, many of whom self-identified as MSM.
“Most of the cases developed lesions on the genitals or the area around the genitals, indicating that transmission likely occurs during close physical contact during sexual activities,” the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Friday.
How many cases have occurred this year, and where were they?
There were 38 cases worldwide this year as of Thursday, including 37 with no history of travel to endemic countries, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Britain reported 11 additional cases on Friday.
In the United States, the first case of 2022 was diagnosed in Massachusetts on Wednesday. The man had recently traveled to Canada, which has two cases this year.
New York City health authorities said Friday they tested two patients under investigation for possible monkeypox.
“One case was ruled out and another was determined positive for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs,” the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. He said on Twitter. She said confirmation of the monkeypox virus was pending testing by the CDC.
Europe has been hit hardest. As of Thursday, Portugal had reported 17 cases, Spain seven, Belgium two, and France, Italy and Sweden one.
Britain has reported nine cases as of Thursday, but Sajid Javid, Britain’s health minister, said on Friday that the number had risen to 20. It is unclear at this point and there is potential to identify more cases.”
None of those infected have died, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
How is the current outbreak different?
This is the first time that chains of transmission have been reported in Europe without a link to West or Central Africa, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The agency also said that this year’s cases included the first reported case among men who have sex with men.
Should I be worried?
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said the possibility of spreading the virus during sexual contact is high, but the risk of transmission from other forms of close contact is low.
Symptoms are usually mild, and most people recover within weeks, but the virus has a fatality rate of about 3.3 percent in Nigeria, where children, young adults and people with immunodeficiency are most susceptible.