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What is Monkeypox?

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Monkeypox – Could this be the UK’s next epidemic?

Earlier this week, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed that a third UK healthcare worker has been diagnosed with monkeypox and is being kept in isolation. Monkeypox sounds like a terrifying disease but what is it exactly, what precautions should we take, and how worried should we be?

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease that is usually confined to rural areas of Central and West Africa. The symptoms are fluid-filled blisters on the face, torso and legs, as well as fever, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and headaches. The disease is usually mild but serious cases can prove fatal. Symptoms usually last between 2 to 5 weeks. In African countries, monkeypox has a case fatality that ranges from 1 to 10 percent.

Monkeypox was first observed on monkeys by scientists in 1958 and the first human case was officially recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970.

What is the cause of monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus that belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox and chickenpox. Close contact with animals that carry the virus, such as monkey and various rodents, is believed to be the primary cause of the disease.

Monkeypox can be transmitted via eating the meat of infected animals, and it is believed that the disease can also be transmitted from person-to-person contact by infected respiratory droplets, although this is very rare. Luckily, the disease does not spread easily but outbreaks in cities around the world remind us of the risks posed by globalisation and how our interconnectedness makes us more vulnerable to pandemics.

Is there a cure for monkeypox?

There isn’t a cure for monkeypox but intensive supported care can help victims make a full recovery. Interestingly, those who have been previously immunised against smallpox tend to have milder infections than those who haven’t been inoculated.

How to prevent monkeypox?

Monkeypox is still incredibly rare in the UK, but if you are planning to travel to any areas of the world where the disease is more common, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the following precautions:

Avoid contact with dead or sick animals in areas where monkeypox has been recorded;
Following universal infection prevention control is a must. Measures include always washing your hands with soap and hot water after contact with animals, before eating, and after visiting the toilet;
Use gloves and other protective equipment when caring for sick relatives;
Any suspected cases of monkeypox must be reported to the health authorities immediately;
Anyone who thinks that they might have monkeypox should stay at home to prevent the disease from spreading to the wider population.

Should we be worried about the UK outbreak?

Experts are working hard to contact anyone who had close contact with the patient to minimise the chances of the disease spreading. It is highly likely that monkeypox will remain confined to a few isolated cases and there is certainly no need to panic.

Source: WHO, PHE, NHS

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