The monkeypox outbreak has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.
While countries in Europe have been hardest hit, cases have also been reported in the United States, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Israel, Brazil and Mexico, among others.
What is monkey pox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection usually found in Central and West Africa. Cases, usually small clusters or isolated infections, are sometimes diagnosed in other countries, including the UK where the first case was recorded in 2018 in an individual suspected of contracting the virus in Nigeria.
There are two forms of monkeypox, a milder strain from West Africa and a more severe strain from Central Africa or Congo. The current international outbreak appears to involve the West African strain, although not all countries have released such information.
Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and chills, as well as other features such as exhaustion, according to the UK Health Safety Agency. .
“A rash may develop, often starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals,” the UKHSA explains. “The rash changes and goes through different stages, and may look like chicken pox or syphilis, before finally forming a crust, which later falls off.”
Most patients recover from monkeypox within a few weeks.
How is did it spread?
Monkeypox does not spread easily between humans and requires close contact. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets.
“Respiratory droplets typically cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required,” the CDC states. “Other methods of human-to-human transmission include direct contact with bodily fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens.”
Where were the cases found?
Globally, there have been 16,016 cases of monkeypox so far – including 4,132 in the past week, according to WHO data. It is now present in 75 countries and territories and there have been five deaths.
The European region has the highest number of total cases, at 11,865, and the largest increase over the past seven days, at 2,705.
How do we catch it?
The WHO said the outbreak was largely in men who have sex with men who said they had recently had sex with new or multiple partners. However, experts have pointed out that anyone can catch monkeypox as it is spread through close or intimate contact, with the UN warning that some media portrayals of Africans and LGBTQ+ people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma.
How worried should we be?
The West African strain of monkeypox is generally a mild infection for most people, but it is important that infected people and their contacts are identified. The virus is of greater concern in vulnerable people such as those with weakened immune systems or who are pregnant.