If you’ve been following the news, you’ll be aware that monkeypox has been making the headlines. Cases have been popping up in a number of nations in the western world, including the UK. In fact, at the time of writing, there have been over 2,137 confirmed cases of Monkeypox in the UK, with figures continuing to rise.1
But what is Monkeypox, how is it spread and what are the symptoms? With cases continuing to climb, now is a good time to familiarise ourselves with these aspects of the disease and learn how to protect against it spreading further.
Monkeypox – the facts
Monkeypox is a zoonotic infection that is usually found in parts of Western and Central Africa. It can be caught off infected animals (particularly rats and other rodents), with transmission taking place usually after contact with blood, body fluids or any scabs on the body of an infected animal. People may also catch Monkeypox by consuming the meat of an animal that was carrying the disease, or by touching any products made from body parts (e.g. furs or skins).
Of course, in the UK, transmission from an animal is extremely unlikely. People are more at risk of catching the disease from an infected person, and this can occur in a number of ways:
- Touching any clothing, bedding or items that have been in contact with an infected person with the Monkeypox rash
- Touching any blisters or scabs on an infected person’s body
- Inhaling or touching respiratory droplets expelled by an infected person when coughing, sneezing etc.2
The strain of Monkeypox spreading in the UK is mostly being spread among men who have sex with men. This demographic forms the vast majority of current cases. However, it’s essential to remember that this is NOT a disease limited to this demographic, and that it can be transferred among anyone.
Unlike the majority of cases found in African nations, the lesions on UK-infected individuals are mostly present around the genital area, suggesting that this strain has been transmitted via sexual activity, though this strain can, of course, be transmitted via the other routes detailed above.3
Typically, infection with Monkeypox will result in symptoms including high temperature (fever), headache, muscle ache, swollen glands, chills and exhaustion. Those with the virus will also develop a rash one to five days after the appearance of the first symptoms. This rash often looks like Chickenpox, but the raised spots will become infectious, fluid-filled blisters that will eventually scab and fall off.4
Interestingly, the strain spreading in the UK does seem to have some differences from the African strain in terms of symptoms. Sufferers in the UK have reported suffering less from fever and fatigue. Additionally, infected UK individuals tend to develop more lesions, and these can be quite localised.5
Treatment and prevention
Thankfully, Monkeypox is unlikely to be serious in the vast majority of cases. People tend to make a full recovery in a couple of weeks without treatment. The most important part of the recovery period for infected individuals is to ensure they isolate to prevent the disease from spreading to other people. However, individuals with weakened immune systems may need to stay in a specialised hospital until recovery.6
Prevention for the disease includes maintaining good standards of hygiene and ensuring that meat is cooked correctly. There is also a vaccine available (MVA) for those most likely to be at risk of catching Monkeypox, including men who have sex with men, healthcare workers and those who have close contact with infected individuals.
At the end of the day, there may not be a serious threat, but it’s still a disease that should be better understood and prevented where possible. Maintaining a high standard of hygiene and implementing the vaccine where necessary will help control the situation. However, it’s always good to arm ourselves with knowledge for any disease that is currently on the rise.
1 Gov.uk. Monkeypox Outbreak: Epidemiological Overview, 28 June 2022. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/monkeypox-outbreak-epidemiological-overview/monkeypox-outbreak-epidemiological-overview-28-june-2022#:~:text=Between%202018%20and%202021%2C%20there,community%20transmission%20in%20previous%20outbreaks. [Last accessed July 22].
2 NHS. Monkeypox. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox/ [Last accessed July 22].
3 UK Monkeypox Symptoms Different To Prior Outbreaks: Study. Link: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220701-uk-monkeypox-symptoms-different-to-prior-outbreaks-study [Last accessed July 22].
4 NHS. Monkeypox. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox/ [Last accessed July 22].
5 UK Monkeypox Symptoms Different To Prior Outbreaks: Study. Link: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220701-uk-monkeypox-symptoms-different-to-prior-outbreaks-study [Last accessed July 22].
6 NHS. Monkeypox. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox/ [Last accessed July 22].