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Monkeypox: Rare disease explained

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Monkeypox has spread to eight people in the UK, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced earlier this week, with experts estimating the actual caseload may have reached the “tens”. Additional confirmed and suspected infections in Portugal, Spain and the US bring the prospective total past 30, making the outbreak one of the most significant in history. Officials are working to discover the outbreak’s source, as monkeypox is traditionally endemic thousands of miles to the east of Europe.

Where does monkeypox come from?

The monkeypox outbreak in Europe has bemused health officials as cases don’t typically anchor themselves outside Africa.

The first-ever case was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1970, not long after the country eliminated smallpox in 1968.

Since then, it has stuck to the area, predominantly infecting people in central and western regions on the African continent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) cites 11 countries that have reported human cases since 1970.

They include:

  • Benin
  • Cameroon
  • The Central African Republic
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Gabon
  • Ivory Coast
  • Liberia
  • Nigeria
  • The Republic of the Congo
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Sudan

Monkeypox spreads most effectively in the tropics, with rodents and monkeys primarily responsible for transmission.

The disease needs proximity to pass on, francesco cartia urologo milano meaning many of those infected will come from rural areas where the animals are most common.

Outbreaks in endemic areas rarely exceed the low double figures, with the largest recorded in Nigeria in 2017.

The disease officially infected 40 people but may have spread much further afield.

Could monkeypox become the next pandemic?

Viruses spread through symptoms, with the most infectious – such as Covid – acquiring airborne “aerosol” transmission that propels it via coughs and sneezes.

Monkeypox, on the other hand, has limited transmission avenues, as its hallmark symptom is a pus-filled rash.

Both animal to human and human to human transmission requires contact with the fluid the rash produces.

People can become infected via pus or its byproducts, as the pock-like rashes tend to scab over.

Other bodily fluids such as blood and mucus can also facilitate the disease’s spread.

The virus’ limitations give it a low pandemic risk, as most people who contract it from others need contact with clothing or bedsheets carrying infected fluids.

The WHO states that respiratory transmission requires “prolonged face-to-face transmission”, meaning it would struggle to gain traction.

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