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Monkeypox virus outbreak: Several countries continue to see rise in infections; WHO lists three things to eliminate disease

Since early May 2022, monkeypox cases have been reported from countries where the disease is not endemic.

Monkeypox virus outbreak: Several countries continue to see rise in infections; WHO lists three things to eliminate disease

New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday (August 31, 2022) said that several countries continue to see a rise in the number of monkeypox infections and listed three things to eliminate the disease.

At a media briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "In the Americas, which accounts for more than half of reported cases, several countries continue to see increasing numbers of infections, although it is encouraging to see a sustained downward trend in Canada."

"Some European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are also seeing a clear slowing of the outbreak, demonstrating the effectiveness of public health interventions and community engagement to track infections and prevent transmission," he added.

The WHO chief said that these signs confirm that with the right measures, this is "an outbreak that can be stopped".

"We might be "living with COVID-19" for the foreseeable future. But we don't have to live with monkeypox," he said.

"But it won't just happen. Eliminating monkeypox needs three things: the evidence that it’s possible, which we are now beginning to see; political will and commitment; and the implementation of public health measures in the communities that need them most," Tedros stated.

Since early May 2022, monkeypox cases have been reported from countries where the disease is not endemic. Most confirmed cases with travel history reported travel to countries in Europe and North America, rather than West or Central Africa where the monkeypox virus is endemic. 

So far, more than 50,000 monkeypox cases have been recorded in the global outbreak. This, notably, is the first time that many monkeypox infections and clusters have been reported concurrently in non-endemic and endemic countries in widely disparate geographical areas.

Most reported monkeypox cases so far have been identified through sexual health or other health services in primary or secondary health-care facilities and have involved mainly, but not exclusively, men who have sex with men.

What is monkeypox disease?

It is an illness caused by the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic infection that can spread from animals to humans. It can also spread from person to person. The disease is called monkeypox because it was first identified in colonies of monkeys kept for research in 1958. It was later detected in humans in 1970. 

What are symptoms of monkeypox?

The monkeypox disease can cause a range of signs and symptoms. While some people have mild symptoms, others may develop more serious symptoms and need care in a health facility. The most common symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed or accompanied by the development of a rash which can last for two to three weeks. 

The rash can be found on the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, eyes, mouth, throat, groin, and genital and/or anal regions of the body. The number of lesions can range from one to several thousand. Lesions begin flat, then fill with liquid before they crust over, dry up and fall off, with a fresh layer of skin forming underneath.

Symptoms typically last two to three weeks and usually go away on their own or with supportive care, such as medication for pain or fever. People remain infectious until all of the lesions have crusted over, the scabs fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath.

Those at higher risk for severe disease or complications include people who are pregnant, children, and persons that are immunocompromised.

How does monkeypox virus spread?

The monkeypox spreads from person to person through close contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash, including through face-to-face, skin-to-skin, mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-skin contact, including sexual contact. When an infectious person touches clothing, bedding, towels, objects, electronics, and surfaces, someone else who touches these items can then become infected. It is also possible to become infected from breathing in skin flakes or virus from clothing, bedding, or towels. 

The virus can also spread through direct contact with the mouth, respiratory droplets, and possibly through short-range aerosols. 

Monkeypox can also spread from someone who is pregnant to the fetus, after birth through skin-to-skin contact, or from a parent with monkeypox to an infant or child during close contact.  

How to protect yourself against monkeypox?

Reduce your risk of catching monkeypox by limiting close contact with people who have suspected or confirmed monkeypox, or with animals who could be infected. 

Clean and disinfect environments that could have been contaminated with the monkeypox virus from someone who is infected regularly. 

Is there a treatment for monkeypox?

People with the monkeypox virus should follow the advice of their health care provider. Symptoms normally resolve on their own without the need for treatment, but if needed, medication for pain (analgesics) and fever (antipyretics) can be used to relieve some symptoms, according to WHO. 

It is important for anyone with monkeypox to stay hydrated, eat well, and get enough sleep. 

People infected with monkeypox should also avoid scratching their skin and take care of their rash by cleaning their hands before and after touching lesions and keeping skin dry and uncovered (unless they are unavoidably in a room with someone else, in which case they should cover it with clothing or a bandage until they are able to isolate again). 

The rash can be kept clean with sterilised water or antiseptic. Saltwater rinses can be used for lesions in the mouth, and warm baths with baking soda and Epsom salts can help with lesions on the body. Lidocaine can be applied to oral and perianal lesions to relieve pain.

An antiviral that was developed to treat smallpox (tecovirimat) was approved in January 2022 by the European Medicines Agency for the treatment of monkeypox. 

Can kids catch monkeypox virus?

Children can also get monkeypox if they have close contact with someone who has symptoms. There, however, have been a small number of kids with monkeypox in the current outbreak.

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