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  • Rushmi Rosairo

Will Monkeypox Lead to Another Pandemic?

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With the world still recovering from COVID-19, the rapid spreading of another viral infection is reason for caution. Monkeypox has reemerged after 40 years, since it was first reported on 12th May. In less than a month, the virus had spread to 23 countries where it is not endemic, according to the World Health Organisation.

Monkeypox, related to smallpox, killed millions of people globally back in 1958 and for years afterwards before it was eradicated in 1980. It got its name when two colonies of monkeys kept for research had an outbreak of a “pox-like disease”. The virus usually lasts only for a few weeks and the patients typically experience a mild illness, however there are instances where monkeypox has been fatal, especially in the elderly and children below the age of 6 months. This time around, there have not been any deaths reported among the confirmed cases outside of the endemic countries.

Monkeypox enters the human body by someone touching or eating infected wildlife. It has an incubation period of 7-14 days with preliminary symptoms being swelling of lymph nodes, fever, chills, headache, muscle weakness, and exhaustion. Next are the painful skin lesions which spread throughout the body and face, even inside the mouth. Said lesions are known to be fluid-filled and often surrounded by red circles, roughly similar to the lesions experienced during chickenpox. When the lesions have healed, they scab over, taking roughly 2-3 weeks for the lesions to heal and scab. The scab is known to carry the virus, resulting in the spread of the virus when said scab dries and dusts, possibly getting inhaled by another person.

The virus typically spreads through close contact, skin-to-skin contact, contact with infected surfaces (like clothes and other materials) and even respiratory droplets in the air. Although monkeypox is not as contagious as COVID-19, it is still a cause for concern as experts state that proper guidance in how an individual must isolate is needed. It has been recommended for the people infected, and those with close contact, to isolate for 21days. It has also been reported that monkeypox has been the cause of around 70 deaths and thousands infected, in endemic countries (so far across five African countries) throughout this year. Vaccines developed for smallpox has been proven to be 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, the only problem being, that they are of short supply.

Picture Credit: Reuters website

Rosamund Lewis, top expert on Monkeypox at The United Nations Health agency stated that the many cases of monkeypox appearing in countries where the virus had never been seen before and across much of Europe, “is clearly a cause for concern, and it does suggest undetected transmission for a while.”

Unfortunately, a stigma has attached itself onto the virus. So far, the majority of monkeypox cases have been reported among men who interact sexually with other men, experts have strongly expressed that monkeypox is not sexually transmitted. The virus spreads through close contact with an infected individual, it is not specific to any gender or sexual orientation. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that “Anyone can be infected with monkeypox if they have close physical contact with someone else who is infected,” he strongly advised to, “fight stigma, which is not just wrong, it could also prevent infected individuals from seeking care, making it harder to stop transmission”.

Monkeypox is spreading fast; within the span of a month (by June 1st) there have been more than 550 cases reported globally in more than 30 countries, causing Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to state that the sudden appearance of the virus in multiple countries, beyond the African countries where the virus is usually found, points to the fact that it had been spreading under the radar for a while now.

"The recent outbreaks are kind of the culmination of years of warnings that basically went ignored," says Dr. Boghuma Titanji, a scientist and infectious diseases physician at Emory University in Atlanta who is originally from Cameroon.

Diseases such as monkeypox which originate from animals have easier access to human populations due to reasons like deforestation and climate change, which cause said animals to be forced to interact with humans and approach areas populated by humans, and by result, pass on any diseases that are transferrable. With globalization, an infected person could infect dozens upon dozens of others by just one plane ride, explaining the spread and reemergence of the virus. Due to this, Scientists aren’t exactly surprised about the situation.

Picture Credit: The Lancet website

The WHO is not inclining towards mass vaccinations, considering it not necessary, instead targeting the vaccines on people at most risk and health workers in some settings. WHO is considering whether should be assessed by potential public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), although experts are saying that it is improbable that it would happen due to the virus being a known disease and able to be eradicated, if only temporarily. On May 27th, WHO recapped that monkeypox is containable with measures including early recognition and isolation.

Unfortunately, prominent infectious disease experts are warning that delaying serious action and repeating the missteps which were taken with COVID-19 would be disastrous. Piero Olliaro, a professor of poverty-related infectious diseases at Oxford University and monkeypox expert stated, “It is always disappointing when the world wakes up to a new disease only when it hits high-income countries.” Will monkeypox lead to another pandemic? Lets hope not.

June 2nd 2022 | 9:00 PM

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