Monkeypox is a very rare, viral disease that is caused by the Monkeypox virus and occurs, typically, in areas of central and western Africa. Individuals infected by monkeypox have been shown to have similar symptoms as those infected by smallpox, a fatal disease that has been eradicated from the world since 1980 according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The name “monkeypox” was coined when the disease was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, laboratory studies have shown that the virus can also infect rodents and rabbits. The Monkeypox virus is a part of the orthopoxvirus group, which includes smallpox and cowpox viruses. While monkeypox shows similar symptoms to smallpox and can also be fatal, it is not considered as serious as the eradicated disease. It was not until 1970 that the first outbreak among humans was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first reported outbreak within the United States did not happen until 2003, where individuals were infected in several Midwest states including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. According to the CDC, all patients who were infected had been in contact with animals, primarily prairie dogs that were purchased as pets. At least two patients were also reported to have been in contact with an infected patient’s lesions or ocular drainage.
A monkeypox infection is spread through direct contact with infected animals. Coming into contact with an infected animal’s rashes, blood or any other bodily fluids can cause a healthy person to become infected with monkeypox. Once individuals are infected with monkeypox, they can continue to spread the disease through close human contact. Human-to-human transmission occurs through contact with an infected person’s skin lesions and particles from respiratory droplets (cough or a sneeze). Keep in mind, objects can be contaminated by an infected person should any secretions from skin lesions and other bodily fluids.
While further studies are needed to determine what types of animals are susceptible to monkeypox, it is generally accepted that any mammals, including household pets, can become infected if they are exposed to another animal that is carrying monkeypox. The following instructions have been issued by the CDC for pet owners who believe their pets have been exposed to monkeypox:
The signs and symptoms of monkeypox are similar to smallpox, but milder. It typically takes 6 to 16 days for symptoms to begin to show after the initial infection. During the first phase of infection, the following symptoms can appear:
One of the most identifiable symptoms of monkeypox is a papular rash, which takes on the appearance of raised bumps that typically occurs on the patients face. This rash occurs during the second phase of infection, and can evolve into small blisters that contain fluid. The blisters will eventually begin to harden and crust. These lesions can grow up to several thousand throughout the body, but mainly cover the face, genitals and eyelids.
The duration of a monkeypox infection can be anywhere between 14 and 21 days. Fever, aches and swollen lymph nodes typically occur within the first five days of symptom onset, followed by the papular rash. According to the CDC, case-fatality ratios of 1 to 10 percent have been reported in Africa. Keep in mind these individuals were located in rural areas of central and western Africa that are medically underserved.
There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine available for monkeypox. However, people in Africa who received a smallpox vaccine were reported to have a lower risk of monkeypox. A smallpox vaccine is typically recommended for individuals who may come into contact with infected animals, such as public health and animal control workers investigating monkeypox. Vaccination is not recommended for those with weakened immune systems or allergic reactions.