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There's a New Disease in Town: Monkeypox. Cases in Europe & US are 'Puzzling Experts', Does India Need to Worry? News18 Explains

An image created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 1996 to 1997. Via Reuters

An image created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 1996 to 1997. Via Reuters

Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before

Monkeypox is back in the news. After a few cases reported in 2021, the disease has grabbed fresh headlines after infections were reported in the UK, prompting the health department to issue an advisory. Now, a case has been reported in the US too.

After Covid-19 ravaged the globe, speculations quickly become rife about any ‘lesser known’ disease spreading even in another corner of the world. The public concern is understandable, and News18explains is here to answer your questions on the Monkey pox: what it is, where it comes from, the symptoms. Let’s take a dive.

What is MonkeyPox Disease?

Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10% mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of more like 1% of cases. The UK cases are least have been reported as the West African strain.

“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Reuters, adding that it was “highly unusual”.

Monkeypox comes from the small pox family of viruses.

Where Have Cases Been Seen?

Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before. Meanwhile, US health officials confirmed that a Massachusetts person tested positive for monkeypox, marking the first occurrence of the rare virus in the United States this year. The patient is an adult male who just travelled to Canada, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Initial testing was done by the agency on Tuesday, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it.

The UK has also reported 9 cases, mostly among gay or bisexual men. There is no link to travel to a country where monkeypox is endemic, reports said on the coming up cases in the country, and exactly where and how they acquired their infections remains under “urgent investigation”, including whether they have further links to each other.

“We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser.

How Does it Spread?

The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.

Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom – nine as of May 18 – have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently travelled to Nigeria.

As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported. The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be alert. Scientists will now sequence the virus to see if they are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.

Does India Need to Worry?

So far, no case has been reported in India. Experts are divided about whether the new cases can be termed an outbreak, however, it remains further to be seen how the disease is spreading and whether the infections increase.

Why Now?

One likely scenario behind the increase in cases is increased travel as Covid restrictions are lifted.

“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth. Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.

Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.

But experts urged people not to panic.

With inputs from Reuters, PTI

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first published:May 19, 2022, 09:06 IST