What Is Monkeypox and Should You Be Worried?

3 minute read

A case of the rare and potentially dangerous monkeypox has been confirmed in the U.S., with two news cases appearing in the U.K., bringing the total number there to nine.

The infected Massachusetts man had recently traveled to Canada and is now receiving treatment in hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Department of Health said the case poses no risk to the public.

It’s the first reported infection in the U.S. so far this year and follows reports of scattered cases in Europe. In addition, health officials in Canada are investigating up to 13 cases in Montreal, Radio-Canada reported.

In the U.K. the Health Security Agency said recent cases were “predominantly in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.”

“We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay if they have concerns,” the agency said.

So what is monkeypox, and should you be worried?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare, usually mild infection, typically caught from infected wild animals in parts of Africa. It was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research—hence the name—with the first human case recorded in 1970, according to the CDC. The disease is a relative of smallpox, causing a rash that often begins on the face, according to the UK’s NHS website.

How can you catch it?

Monkeypox can be caught from a bite by an infected animal, or by touching its blood, body fluids or fur. It’s thought to be spread by rodents, such as rats, mice, and squirrels. It’s also possible to catch the disease by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked properly.

It’s very unusual to catch monkeypox from a human, because it doesn’t spread easily between people. But it is possible to spread the disease through touching clothing, bedding, or towels used by someone with the rash. The disease can also be transmitted by touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs, or getting too close to coughs and sneezes from an infected person.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

If you get infected with monkeypox, it usually takes between five to 21 days for the first symptoms to appear. These include a fever, a headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering, and exhaustion.

A rash typically appears one to five days after experiencing these symptoms. The rash is sometimes confused with chickenpox, because it starts as raised spots which turn into small scabs filled with fluid. The symptoms usually clear up within two to four weeks and scabs falls off.

Can monkeypox kill you?

Studies in central Africa, where people have less access to quality health care, show the disease kills as many as one in 10 infected people, according to the World Health Organization. However, most patients recover within a few weeks.

Is there a cure?

Patients will usually need to stay in a specialist hospital so infection doesn’t spread and general symptoms can be treated. There is one vaccine and one specific treatment—SIGA Technologies’ Tecovirimat, a drug usually sold under the brand name Tpoxx—but they are not yet widely available.

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