Vaccine United

What Is Monkeypox, And Should We Be Concerned?

By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY — Just as the COVID pandemic begins to decrease in severity and numbers, the conversation has shifted to monkeypox, the latest infectious disease outbreak that is making its way around the world.

According to a published report from the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 21, the outbreak began just over a couple weeks ago on May 13 and was confirmed on May 21, to infect 92 people in 12 countries, including nine European countries, the US, Australia, and Canada. While monkeypox did not just get discovered, this is the first time it has spread this vastly across the globe without direct travel links to endemic areas; although, epidemiological investigations are still ongoing. Additionally, the cases have mainly but not exclusively been discovered in homosexual men, although the reasoning for this occurrence is still undetermined. 

Although only one patient from Boston has been identified with monkeypox in the US, President Biden spoke at Osan Air Base in South Korea as his first official visit to Asia as president and expressed concern about the potential consequences of the virus. Even though the virus is rarely fatal, the outbreak has spread fairly quickly in a short amount of time and in conjunction with COVID it could put further stress on the healthcare system if it worsens. 

Monkeypox obtained its name from its initial discovery, in 1958, when two outbreaks of a chickenpox like disease occurred in monkey colonies that existed for research purposes. The first human case wasn’t identified till 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, monkeypox has been reported in humans in rare and minor outbreaks in the US, Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Prior to the current outbreak, these infections were linked to international travel or animal shipments. 

Most recently, the US identified two single cases in July and November 2021. The two individual cases were linked to travel and didn’t spread further than the identified infected patients. In 2003, the US experienced a more severe outbreak with 47 confirmed and probable cases reported from six states. The outbreak was caused by imported mammals from Africa. The shipment contained 800 mammals including six types of rodents. Investigations from that outbreak revealed that all the infected patients had direct contact with animals that became infected with it. 

Currently, the CDC is collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to investigate a case of monkeypox that infected a U.S. resident traveling from Canada. The CDC is also tracking clusters of monkeypox that were reported in early to mid-May in several countries that don’t usually have the disease. 

Monkeypox shares similarities with other ordinary discrete smallpox, but carries a distinctive characteristic of swollen lymph nodes which the latter does not include. On average, the incubation period lasts about 7-14 days after exposure, but can range from 5-21 days. Initially, the infection will begin with symptoms of fever, malaise, headaches, or weakness; before transpiring to a rash, four stages of lesions, and then finally scabbing over and resolving. After two or three days of a fever, infected patients usually begin to see the rash, which quickly spreads around their body.

The entire process occurs over a period of two to three weeks and includes a full body rash spreading on even the face and tongue and vesicular lesions that become filled with pus before the scabbing begins. 

The infected person is expected to be contagious throughout the entire period of symptoms until the scabbing. The severity of the illness depends on the healthiness of the individual, the exposure, and the specific strain of the virus. West African monkeypox is normally associated with a milder version of the disease and less human-to-human spread. Central African monkeypox is typically more severe and has a higher mortality rate as well as person-to-person spread. 

In the same report, the WHO revealed that the situation is evolving and more cases of monkeypox are expected to arise. The current evidence reveals that people exposed to monkeypox patients while they are symptomatic are most likely to be at risk during this time. The organization shared they will be working to provide guidance to protect frontline healthcare providers and other health workers who are at risk. WHO will provide more technical recommendations in the coming days as the severity of the spread becomes more apparent. 

Additionally, Biden mentioned during his speech in South Korea that the US is currently investigating the spread of the virus and searching for potential vaccines that could halt it in its tracks. 

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