Monkeypox: a disease that is usually mild

Monkeypox, several cases of which have been recorded in Europe and America, is a rare disease that originated in Africa and is generally cured spontaneously. The WHO does not fear a pandemic for the time being.

What is this disease?

Similar to smallpox, however, it is still considered much less serious and less contagious to this day.

Monkeypox (“Monkeypox” in English) or “Simian orthopoxvirus” is a rare disease that has been known to affect humans since the 1970s and was first identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).

“The identification of monkeypox clusters in May 2022 in several non-endemic countries (where the disease is not common, ed.) without direct association with travel to endemic areas is atypical,” according to the WHO.

The organization says it is “not concerned at the moment” about the possibility of “a global pandemic” and judges “possible to stop this epidemic before it spreads”.

Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by a virus transmitted to humans from infected animals, most commonly rodents.

However, the virus was first discovered in 1958 in a group of macaque monkeys being studied for research purposes, hence the name, Inserm explains.

The incubation can generally last between 5 and 21 days and the symptoms are similar, although less severe, to those of smallpox (fever, headache, myalgia…) during the first five days.

Then rashes appear (on the face, palms, soles), lesions, pustules, and finally scabs.

Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in about ten African countries.

In the spring of 2003, cases were also confirmed in the United States, marking the first occurrence of this disease outside of the African continent.

How is it transmitted?

In the first cases, infection occurs through direct contact with blood, body fluids or skin or mucous membrane lesions of infected animals.

According to the current state of knowledge, secondary transmission – i.e. from person to person – requires close and prolonged contact between two people and takes place mainly via saliva or pus from skin lesions caused by the infection.

Several experts have pointed out that while this virus can be transmitted during sexual activity, it is not a sexually transmitted disease. This transmission could be due to intimate and close contact during intercourse and not the intercourse itself.

UNAIDS has warned of homophobic and racial deviations sometimes seen in comments about monkeypox that “could quickly undermine the fight against the epidemic”.

How serious?

As previously known, monkeypox usually heals spontaneously and the symptoms last for two to three weeks. Severe cases are more common in children and are related to the level of virus exposure, the patient’s medical condition, and the severity of the complications.

The case fatality rate of the disease varies between 1 and 10% depending on the variant (there are two), rates observed in endemic areas in countries with a failing health care system.

But proper medical care greatly reduces the risk, and most people recover spontaneously. In countries where the disease has recently been identified, observed cases are mostly mild and there are no deaths.

Is there a treatment?

There are no specific treatments or vaccines for monkeypox, but drugs and vaccines designed for smallpox can be used to treat monkeypox.

It has been proven in the past that the anti-smallpox vaccine had an 85% effectiveness in preventing monkeypox at the time. 1st and 2nd generation vaccines have not been used in the general population since 1984 due to the eradication of smallpox.

A 3rd generation vaccine (non-replicating live vaccine, ie one that does not replicate in the human body) has been approved in Europe since July 2013 and is indicated against smallpox in adults. It also has marketing approval in the United States for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox.

On the treatment side, certain antiviral drugs developed specifically for smallpox can be used to treat or limit the effects of monkeypox, such as: B. Tecovirimat.

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