Monkeypox: more and more cases in Europe – what we know about the infection

Disease outbreak
Cases on the rise in Europe and North America – what you need to know about monkeypox

monkey pox

This electron micrograph shows the monkeypox virus

© Andrea Männel/RKI/ / DPA

Smallpox has been eradicated for 40 years. The first cases of monkeypox were discovered in Great Britain. Cases have also been reported in the United States, Spain and Portugal, among other places. The Robert Koch Institute warns doctors to be careful. What exactly is monkeypox? And how to treat an infection?

Smallpox has been eradicated since 1980 thanks to a successful vaccination campaign. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) describes that a large part of the world’s population is no longer vaccinated. Human cases of monkeypox have been on the rise in Nigeria since 2017. First, there was an outbreak of the disease in the UK. The British health authority UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has now recorded seven cases. Today, monkeypox appears in more and more countries: Spain, Portugal and the United States. Suspected cases are currently being investigated in Canada.

What causes monkey pox?

Monkeypox is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypoxvirus belongs to the genus Orthopoxvirus of the Poxviridae family. The genus Orthopoxvirus includes other smallpox viruses, writes the US health authority Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in research colonies of monkeys. Hence the name of the viral infection. Suspected cases are currently being investigated in Canada. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had already made German doctors aware of the virus after the cases in Britain.

How are they transferred?

According to the RKI, people can become infected with monkeypox through contact with infected squirrels, rats or monkeys. This can happen through a bite, handling animals as pets, and contact with animal blood or secretions. People can also get infected from animals by eating monkey meat or through droplet infection. The virus enters the body through damaged skin, the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes.

According to the RKI, person-to-person transmission has “apparently increased” since the 1980s. A possible explanation for this could be the decrease in protection against smallpox. According to the CDC, human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through droplets. Infection is also possible through direct contact with bodily fluids or the scabs from the rash. Infection through sexual contact is also possible. According to the RKI, men who have sex with men should “seek medical attention immediately” if they experience any unusual skin changes.

What do we know about the cases so far?

The first infection, known in Britain in early May, is thought to be due to an infection in Nigeria. The links between the persons concerned are only partially known. In some cases, it is not known where the affected people were infected. Four recently reported cases involve men who have had sexual contact with other men. They were believed to have been infected in London, according to the UKHSA.

In the United States, one person in the northeastern state of Massachusetts has been affected so far, the CDC said on Wednesday. In Spain, eight infections have been reported in the capital Madrid, the Europa Press news agency reported on Wednesday, citing health authorities. In Portugal, the newspaper “Público” even wrote about twenty people infected. The majority of cases that have been reported so far involve men who have had sexual contact with other men.

How high have experts estimated the risk of an outbreak in Britain?

Following the emergence of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in early May, UK health experts have stressed that monkeypox is not easily transmitted from person to person and the risk to the general population is very low.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

According to the UKHSA, most infections are mild. But serious infections can also occur. According to the RKI, CDC and UKHSA, the following symptoms occur:

  • sudden fever
  • (severe headaches
  • Back ache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • muscle aches/aches
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • chills
  • exhaustion
  • rash that often starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body The rash may look different depending on the stage of the disease and may look like chicken pox or syphilis. Eventually it scabs over and falls off.

How long have you been sick with monkeypox?

The infection typically lasts two to four weeks, according to the CDC. According to the RKI, there is a risk of infection until the scabs from the rash fall off. But only symptomatic patients are contagious. It takes seven to 21 days for the disease to appear after infection.

How is the infection treated?

The main goal of treatment for monkeypox is to relieve symptoms. It is also important to avoid other bacterial infections that may occur due to the weakened immune system. The RKI advises a three-week isolation period.

How to prevent monkeypox infection?

The CDC advises travelers to Central and West Africa to avoid close contact with potentially infected animals. This also applies to sick or dead animals. Waste that animals have come into contact with should also be avoided. An infected person should be isolated when sick and anyone who has been in contact with an infected person should pay close attention to hand hygiene.

Sources:RKI 1, RKI 2, CDC, UKHSA report, UKHSA, with dpa material

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