I’ve heard of Ebola and Zika, but what is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is caused by a virus that is a relative of smallpox. It causes fever, headaches, and a rash that turns into blisters like those of chickenpox. It is usually just a mild illness lasting a few weeks, but can sometimes be deadly. As the name suggests, it was first identified in monkeys, and is mainly confined to West and Central Africa.
How serious is the disease there?
In Africa, there are occasional reports of people catching it from eating bushmeat such as squirrels and rodents, and it can sometimes pass between humans too. It has a reported death rate of between 1 and 10 per cent, with children being most likely to die.
Why is it in the news?
Three people in the UK have been diagnosed with monkeypox since the start of September, and are now being cared for in hospital by tropical disease specialists. The condition has not been recorded in this country before.
Gulp. Where is it coming from?
The first two victims seem to have caught the infection while in Nigeria, where there is currently an upsurge in the disease. The third was a healthcare worker looking after the second patient at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, before they were diagnosed with monkeypox.
How worried should I be?
Don’t panic. The disease does not pass very easily between people. Transmission between humans occurs through contact with bodily fluids or getting close enough to breathe in large airborne droplets. It is not surprising that a healthcare worker got infected, but such droplets generally cannot travel more than a metre or so, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so there’s little risk to the public.
So why the fuss?
Any disease that circulates in animals and can be passed to people has potential for causing a new pandemic, if it mutates to become more deadly or more easily transmissible. Monkeypox has no specific treatment and no specific vaccine licensed for use. The smallpox vaccine gives immunity to monkeypox and is now being used in the UK hospitals involved. It can also be used as a treatment if given soon after exposure.
What happens next?
In the UK, public health officials are following up all close contacts of cases for three weeks. Unless you are one of their friends, family or doctors, you probably have nothing to worry about.
More on these topics: