The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported an outbreak of monkeypox or simian pox (monkeypox, in English), with about 100 cases in 16 countries, all European, except Israel, the United States and Canada. Cases of this disease have usually been confined to countries in central and western Africa.
It is a rare infection caused by a virus of the smallpox family. There have been other outbreaks of monkeypox, but never have cases spread so widely.
The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of the flu:
- Swollen glands
However, there is a big difference: the person infected with the virus that causes monkeypox develops blisters on the hands, arms and legs, and even on other parts of the body such as the back. Similar to what happened with smallpox (eradicated from the world in the 1980s thanks to vaccination), these pustules are first small and then enlarge and fill with pus. They can itch, and take weeks to go away. Once they go away, the person is no longer contagious
Although monkeypox is usually a mild illness, complications can include pneumonia, vision loss, and sepsis, or a generalized infection that can be life-threatening.
In general, a person becomes infected by contact with carrier animals such as apes or certain species of mice, through bites, injuries or eating the meat of these animals without cooking them well.
However, in this new outbreak there have been cases of infections linked to men who have sex with men, which, emphasizes the WHO, does not make it a sexually transmitted disease. This is an unusual way to get the virus. In fact, this outbreak seems to be associated with increased person-to-person transmission, a form that, again, is not the usual one.
Smallpox vaccination can protect against monkeypox, and can be used in high-risk contacts as preventive treatment after exposure. There are also at least three antiviral drugs used against this virus that are currently available in the United States.
As always, it is necessary to consult immediately with the doctor, who will make the diagnosis. And, as with most viruses, rest, staying hydrated and avoiding stress help the body do its job and expel the virus.