Monkeypox is caused by a virus which, despite periodic outbreaks, is not thought to spread easily from person to person and historically did not stimulate long chains of transmission within communities. Now many researchers are wondering why monkeypox seems to spread so easily and unconventionally in the current global epidemic.
The monkeypox virus is usually spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions, such as mucus or salivaWhere skin lesions. Skin lesions traditionally appear soon after infection as a rash – small round bumps or papules on the face, hands or genitals. These lesions can also appear inside the mouth, eyes, and other parts of the body that produce mucus. They can last for several weeks and be a source of virus before they are completely healed. Other symptoms usually include fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and headache.
I am a epidemiologist which studies emerging infectious diseases that cause outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. Understanding what is currently known about monkeypox transmission and ways to protect yourself and others from infection can help reduce the spread of the virus.
How is this epidemic different from previous ones?
The current monkeypox outbreak is a bit unusual in several ways.
First, the sheer scale of the current epidemic, with more than 25,000 cases worldwide in early August and in countries where the virus has never appeared, distinguishes it from previous epidemics. Monkeypox is endemic to specific areas of central and western Africa, where cases occur sporadically and outbreaks are generally contained and quickly exhausted. In the current epidemic, global spread has been rapid. Young men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 44, account for the majority of cases, and more than 97% identify as men who have sex with men (MSM). Some large-scale events associated with air travel, international gatherings, and sex with multiple partners contributed to early transmission of the virus.
Second, how the symptoms appear may facilitate spread among people who do not yet know they are infected. More the patients reported mild symptoms without fever or swollen lymph nodes, symptoms that usually appear before a rash is visible. While most people develop skin lesions, many reported having only a single papule that was often hidden inside a mucous area, such as inside the mouth, throat, or belly. rectum, making it easier to miss.
A number of people have reported no symptoms. Asymptomatic infections are more likely to go undiagnosed and unreported than those with symptoms. But it is not yet known to what extent asymptomatic individuals may contribute to the spread or how many asymptomatic cases may go undetected so far.
Who is at risk of getting monkeypox?
For Most people, the risk of contracting monkeypox is currently low. Anyone who has prolonged and close contact with an infected person is at risk, including partners, parents, children or siblings, among others. The most common transmission parameters are within households or health care facilities.
Due to sustained transmission within the community of men who have sex with men, they are considered a risk group, and targeted recommendations can help allocate resources and limit transmission. While monkeypox is spreading mainly among MSM, it does not mean that the virus will remain confined to this group or that it will not jump to other social networks. The virus itself does not take into account age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Someone who comes into direct contact with the monkeypox virus is at risk of infection. New cases are being recorded daily, with other countries and regions reporting their first cases and already affected countries seeing a continued rise in infections.
As with most infections, other factorssuch as the amount of viral exposure, type of contact, and individual immune response, play a role in whether or not infection occurs.
Is monkeypox an STI?
While sexual intercourse is currently the predominant mode of transmission among reported cases, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. STIs are transmitted primarily through sexual contact, while monkeypox can be spread through any form of prolonged, close contact.
Close contact that transmits the monkeypox virus involves encounters that are usually more intimate or involved than having a casual conversation or standing next to someone in an elevator. Transmission requires exchange of mucosal fluids or direct contact with the virus in sufficient quantity to sow infection. This can happen through physical contact when kissing or hugging.
Since sexual encounters involve direct skin-to-skin physical contact where bodily fluids can be exchanged, these close encounters can transmit viruses more easily. Recently, monkeypox DNA was detected in feces and various bodily fluids, including saliva, blood, semen and urine. But the presence of viral DNA does not necessarily mean that the virus can infect someone else. Transmission from these sources is still under investigation.
As the virus moves through populations, public health officials focus on getting the message out to communities most at risk and hardest hit on how to stay safe. Currently, breaking the chain of transmission among sexual contacts is a priority, including but not limited to MSM communities. Targeted messages aim to protect the health of a specific group, do not stigmatize the intended audience.
Other modes of transmission may play a larger role outside of the MSM community. Domestic Transmission, where individuals may come into close contact with infected people or contaminated objects, is one of the most common types of exposure. Research is ongoing on the potential airborne and respiratory droplets spread of monkeypox in the current situation.
Epidemics are dynamic situations that change over time, which is why public health messages may change as the outbreak progresses. Not all outbreaks look or behave the same – even pathogens seen in previous outbreaks may be different next time. As researchers learn more about how the disease is transmitted and identify changes in spread patterns, public health officials will provide updates on specific forms of contact, behaviors or other factors that may increase the risk of infection. Although changing guidelines can be frustrating or confusing, keeping up to date with the latest recommendations can help you protect yourself and stay safe.
What should I do if I have been exposed to monkeypox?
Anyone infected can help contain the spread by isolating themselves from others, including pets. Covering skin lesions, wearing a mask in shared spaces, and decontaminating shared surfaces or objects, such as bedding, dishes, clothing, or towels, can also reduce the spread.
You can also help break the chain of transmission by participating in contact tracinginforming public health officials of others who may have been exposed through you, which is a basic principle and standard practice in disease control.
Lately, to get vaccinated as soon as possible can still protect you from serious illness even if you have already been infected.