What Is Monkeypox? - 'Hot Mic' With Nidhi Razdan

Monkeypox has been detected in 14 countries now including the US and Britain. The outbreak has taken scientists by surprise since Monkeypox is most common in remote parts of Central and West Africa

Hi, This is Hot Mic and I'm Nidhi Razdan.

The COVID pandemic is not over yet. But there is a new virus that's causing concern in several countries. Monkeypox has been detected in 14 countries until now, including the US and Britain. Till Sunday evening, more than 80 cases were confirmed in Europe, including in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Portugal. The US, Canada and Australia have all seen cases, and Israel and Switzerland are the latest countries to confirm cases of the rare viral disease. Worryingly, in the UK, health authorities have said that they are seeing daily infections of the virus which are unconnected to any travel to West Africa. Confirming that community transmission is underway. However, the risk to the general population - they say - remains extremely low, with cases so far mostly found in some urban areas and among gay or bisexual men. Asked about the outbreak as he finished a visit to South Korea just a few days ago, President Biden said that if the virus were to spread more widely, it would be consequential. Adding that it is something everybody should be concerned about. The outbreak has taken scientists across the world by surprise, since monkeypox is most common in remote parts of Central and West Africa. So what do we know about monkeypox?

Well, according to the World Health Organization or the WHO, monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions. The initial symptoms of monkeypox include a fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling and back pain. Patients typically develop a rash one to three days after the appearance of fever, often beginning on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body, such as the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. The rash, which can cause severe itching then goes through several stages before the lesion scab and fall off. Symptoms can last from anywhere from two to four weeks. There can be severe illness, too, with the case fatality ratio around three to six per cent at the moment. The WHO says that monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, or with material contaminated with the virus. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or through the eyes, nose and mouth. Human to human transmission most commonly occurs through respiratory droplets. Though usually it requires prolonged face to face contact. Animal to human transmission, meanwhile, could occur through a bite or a scratch. Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, but it can be passed on during sex.

The clinical presentation of monkeypox resembles that of smallpox, a related infection that was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. But monkeypox is less contagious than smallpox. And causes less severe illness. Vaccines used during the smallpox eradication program also provided protection against monkeypox. Although there is no specific vaccine for monkeypox yet, several countries have now started stocking up on smallpox vaccines, which are about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox as well. Countries, including the UK and Spain, are now offering the vaccine to those who have been exposed to infections to help reduce their symptoms and limit the spread of the virus.

Human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nine-year-old boy in the region where smallpox had been eliminated in 1968. Since then, most cases have been reported from rural rainforest regions of the Congo Basin, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and human cases have increasingly been reported from across Central and West Africa. Since 1980, human cases of monkeypox in fact have been reported in 11 African countries, but its true burden is not actually known. In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was detected in the United States and it was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs. These pets had been housed with Gambian pouched rats and dormice that had been imported into the country from Ghana. This outbreak led to more than 70 cases of monkeypox in the US. Other previous cases were reported in Israel, the UK and Singapore.

The US Center for Disease Control and Infection and the UK's Health Security Agency have both recently said that they are investigating a range of cases, including among those individuals who self-identify as men who have had sex with men and have urged gay and bisexual men in particular to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions. There are currently no proven safe treatments for monkeypox, though most cases are mild and it is treated symptomatically. The WHO has said that the recent outbreaks are unusual in that they are occurring in countries where the disease is not endemic. Scientists don't really know why this outbreak is happening at the moment. One theory is that the virus may have mutated or changed, but again, there's not been any definitive study on a new variant. The other reason that's being cited could be that it's just much easier for monkeypox to spread than it did in the past when the smallpox vaccine was widely used.

The WHO has warned that transmission could accelerate during the summer season as people gather for festivals as well as parties. No monkeypox case has been reported in India yet, but the Health Ministry has said that it is keeping a close watch on the situation.