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Monkeypox cases detected in United Kingdom; All you need to know about the viral infection


Cases of monkeypox virus have been confirmed in the United Kingdom. While some of the infected people had travel history to Nigeria, health authorities are yet to ascertain the source of transmission in others. The virus has been termed endemic to Nigeria and is considered ‘rare and unusual’.

Though there are no cases of the virus reported in India, here’s all you need to know about the infection.

What is it?

A zoonosis disease, which is transmitted from animals to humans, monkeypox is an orthopoxvirus that causes a disease with symptoms similar, but less severe, to smallpox. “Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae. It was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in lab monkeys that were kept for research, from which the name has originated,” said Dr Vikrant Shah, consulting physician, intensivist, and infection disease specialist, Zen Multispeciality Hospital Chembur.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), while smallpox was eradicated in 1980, monkeypox continues to occur in countries of Central and West Africa.

chicken pox The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy) while smallpox does not, according to CDC (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

How is it transmitted?

On its website, WHO states that cases are often found “close to tropical rainforests where there are animals that carry the virus”. Evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in animals including squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice, different species of monkeys and others, it reads.

It is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, lesions on the skin or on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth or throat, respiratory droplets and contaminated objects.

Signs and symptoms

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7-14 days but can range from 5-21 days.

Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.

How is it detected?

Detection of viral DNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the preferred laboratory test for monkeypox, WHO notes. The best diagnostic specimens are directly from the rash – skin, fluid or crusts, or biopsy where feasible. Antigen and antibody detection methods may not be useful as they do not distinguish between orthopoxviruses. “Typically, up to a tenth of persons suffering from monkey pox may die, with most deaths occurring in younger age groups,” said Dr Shuchin Bajaj, founder director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals.

How is it different from small pox?

The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that the latter causes lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy) while smallpox does not, according to CDC.

Treatment

Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox virus infection, notes CDC while mentioning that for purposes of controlling a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used. “There is no treatment for it but vaccination against smallpox can be effective in preventing monkeypox,” said Dr Shah.

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