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Monkeypox: what we know

Illustration of the monkeypox virus

You might have heard that a disease called monkeypox is spreading in parts of the world where it typically doesn't. 

Like many people hearing the news, you probably have questions. We're here today to answer them for you. So if you're looking to understand the monkeypox situation, this is the article for you. 

But before starting, we’d like to let you know that monkeypox is not a serious condition for most people.

In the majority of cases, monkeypox will clear up in a couple of weeks without treatment.ref1 Pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised people may be at increased risk of serious disease.ref1

Now, on to the article.

What's going on

Health authorities are on alert because scientists have identified monkeypox cases in Europe, the Americas, and Australia.ref1 They're concerned because monkeypox is rare outside Central and West African countries.ref1

At the time of writing, case numbers are low but rising daily. As of 21 May, the current outbreak has caused no deaths.ref1

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease that scientists first discovered in monkeys in 1958, which is where it gets its name.ref1 It was first seen in humans in 1970.ref1

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, a virus from the same family as smallpox, although it causes a less severe illness.ref1 There are 2 types of monkeypox virus: the West African strain and the Congo Basin strain. All cases identified in the outbreak have been caused by the West African strain, which is the less serious type.ref1

What are the monkeypox symptoms?

Monkeypox usually causes fever and a distinctive rash, but other symptoms include:ref1

  • Headaches
  • Backpain
  • Aching muscles
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The monkeypox rash usually appears on the face, hands, and feet, although it can affect other parts of the body too. Eventually, the rash turns into a scab and falls off.ref2 

Are there treatments for monkeypox?

The smallpox vaccine may be up to 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. There are also existing antiviral drugs that may be effective against monkeypox.ref2  

But for most people with an infection, treatment isn't necessary as the disease will run its course.ref2

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox infections can occur due to contact with infected animals or people.ref1 The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact, exchange of bodily fluids, and respiratory droplets.ref1

Why is monkeypox spreading now?

The rising number of monkeypox cases may be due to the drop-off of smallpox vaccinations around the globe in the 1980s.ref3 This means most people under 45 years of age have poor immunity to monkeypox and other similar viruses.

Do I need to worry about monkeypox?

Health authorities are on alert because this is an unusual situation. But most scientists agree this outbreak will not lead to a pandemic like COVID-19. 

For one thing, monkeypox is not a new virus. We already have vaccines and treatments that are effective against it. Also, monkeypox spreads more slowly than COVID-19, and the distinctive rash means it's easy to know if you're infected and need to stay away from others. 

As case numbers increase, diligence will be necessary. But that doesn't mean there's any reason to panic.

  1. WHO (2022). Multi-country monkeypox outbreak in non-endemic countries. Accessed 27 May, 2022.

  2. WHO (2022). Monkeypox. Fact Sheet. Accessed 27 May, 2022.

  3. Bunge EM, et al. (2022). The changing epidemiology of human monkeypox-A potential threat? A systematic review. Accessed 27 May, 2022.