“Bit once, twice shy” might be an apt description of the public’s response to the newly spreading monkeypox virus.
The number of searches for monkey pox on Google jumped thousands of times a few weeks ago and curiosity about the disease only seems to be growing. However, if we dig deeper, we find that monkeypox is far less of a threat than the COVID-19 virus.
Monkeypox is caused by a virus from the same group as the smallpox and cowpox viruses, so many of its characteristics are similar. There are several symptoms that can indicate an infection, including fever, headache and muscle aches, although the most characteristic in symptomatic individuals is a pimple-filled rash that can be filled with pus (hence the word ‘pox’ in the name). And while most people will become symptom-free within 2 to 4 weeks, people with underlying health conditions can develop health complications.
What should bring us comfort, however, is the resemblance of smallpox and monkeypox. History geeks may know that smallpox was one of the deadliest infectious diseases ever, and was officially eradicated nearly half a century ago, in 1980. This was largely due to worldwide vaccination efforts, which has meant that we no longer need to be vaccinated against it. Due to its similarity to monkeypox, the result is that many of the vaccines previously developed against smallpox have also been shown to be effective against the monkeypox virus. So it won’t take too long to tweak them to make them more effective.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 42 countries, both endemic and non-endemic, have reported 2,103 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox since the beginning of the year.
And what are endemic countries, you ask? These are countries where a disease is constantly present, but limited in its spread. So in the case of monkey pox, these countries are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a few others, all in Africa.
This tells us that we already have a relatively good understanding of the disease in its current form and that we can use this information to prevent it from spreading.
According to the WHO, the majority of current cases in the world (98 percent) have been reported since May 2022. Europe has been hit hardest, with 84 percent of confirmed cases coming from the region. This is followed by 12 percent in the Americas, while Africa is responsible for 3 percent of cases.
So far, eight cases have been reported in Australia, five in NSW and three in Victoria.
The UN health body will hold an emergency meeting on June 23 to determine whether the global monkeypox outbreak should be classified as a public health emergency of international concern.
The global health authority’s highest alert level currently only applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and has also applied to polio and Ebola in the past.
What can we do on an individual level? Like many viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, monkeypox spreads through physical contact and bodily fluids and through contaminated surfaces. So we can take many of the same precautions we used to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as practicing good hand hygiene and using masks and gloves. If you suspect you have monkey pox, NSW Health recommends that you isolate yourself and minimize contact with others and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Since we’ve given up so much in the past 2-3 years, it’s only natural that we get shivers down our spines every time we hear the news of a new infectious disease that seems to be spreading around the world. But because of the many differences between the monkeypox virus and the coronavirus, there is little reason to panic. However, take precautions to protect yourself and those around you.
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