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What WHO knows about monkeypox virus outbreak so far

By Winfrey Owino - May 23rd 2022
World Health Organisation headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. [Reuters]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced an outbreak of monkeypox disease in about 12 member states worldwide as of Saturday, May 21 evening.

The cases were first reported on May 13 in Europe and North America, regions that are not endemic to cases of the monkeypox virus.

In a statement, the global health body says most people diagnosed with the virus are men who engage in intimate activities with other men.

As of Saturday, WHO says that 92 laboratories had confirmed cases of monkeypox and 28 suspected cases were still under investigation.

By then, no resultant death had been recorded.

“The virus is endemic in some animal populations in a number of countries, leading to occasional outbreaks among local people and travellers. The recent outbreaks reported across 12 countries so far are occurring in non-endemic countries,” WHO said in a statement.

Cases of monkeypox have been reported in the USA, UK, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Belgium and Australia.

“Epidemiological investigations are ongoing, however, reported cases thus far have no established travel links to endemic areas. Based on currently available information, cases have mainly but not exclusively been identified amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) seeking care in primary care and sexual health clinics,” the statement went on.

What is monkeypox disease?

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms very similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe.

It is caused by the monkeypox virus which belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family.

Monkeypox also triggers enlarged lymph nodes and, eventually, distinctive fluid-filled lesions on the face, hands and feet.

Most people recover from monkeypox in a few weeks without treatment.

How does it spread and what symptoms?

Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.

Monkeypox spreads through close contact, therefore, people who closely interact with someone who is infectious are at greater risk for infection: this includes health workers, household members and sexual partners.

Contact with live and dead animals through hunting and consumption of wild game or bush meat are known risk factors.

The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from 6 to 13 days but can range from 5 to 21 days.

The disease is often self-limiting with symptoms usually resolving spontaneously within 14 to 21 days.

Symptoms can be mild or severe, and lesions can be very itchy or painful.

This morning,  Belgium became the first country to impose mandatory 21-day monkeypox quarantine on monkeypox patients.

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