Monkeypox: a new health threat?

A new infectious disease, monkeypox, has been identified in Europe, including several countries of the European Union. The UK, Portugal and Spain have reported several cases, according to a report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
21.05.2022. Inga Paparde
 
MONKEYPOX is a rare disease that has remained in the world since smallpox was eradicated, and cases have now been reported in Europe, with the infection spreading here for the first time. The first case of smallpox was reported in 1970 in Congo ©Depositphotos

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that has so far only been found in remote areas of Central and West Africa, close to tropical forests. As the number of cases is low and the illness is mild, no alarm bells have been rung in Europe.

Monkeypox spreads in Europe for the first time

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the first case of monkeypox was reported in the UK on May 7 this year, and it is likely that the disease was brought in from another country. Two more cases have already been reported in the UK on May 14, both people living in the same household but without any contact with the first case of monkeypox. Two days later, four more cases were reported in the UK, none of whom had travelled to countries where monkeypox could spread (so-called endemic regions). Epidemiologists point out that so far, young men have been the ones to contract monkeypox.

Portugal has also reported monkeypox, with the first five cases reported this week and a further 20 suspected cases under evaluation. Most of the cases are from Lisbon. Spain has also reported eight cases.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, only seven cases of monkeypox have been reported since 2018, all in the UK (2018, 2019 and 2021). In most cases, the patients had travelled to countries where monkeypox is most prevalent.

Therefore, epidemiologists can now say with a high degree of certainty that the monkeypox cases reported this year are the first cases of transmission of the disease in Europe, where there is no epidemiological link between Europe and West and Central Africa.

Epidemiologists will now monitor whether and how monkeypox spreads further, but so far it is known to be spread by close contact between humans, unlike Covid-19 for example.

Latvia is keeping an eye on global developments

The Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control confirmed to Neatkarīgā that, according to the European Union's Early Warning and Response System, cases of monkeypox have been reported in various countries: seven laboratory-confirmed cases in the United Kingdom, five laboratory-confirmed cases and 15 suspected cases in Portugal (Lisbon and the Tagus Valley), one laboratory-confirmed case in Sweden, most likely linked to travel to Italy, eight suspected cases in Spain, one laboratory-confirmed case in Belgium, most likely linked to travel to Portugal, one laboratory-confirmed case in Italy from a man who had travelled to Gran Canaria. Only one case in the epidemiological investigation involves travel to the endemic country Nigeria, the other cases are not related to this introduced case and the epidemiological data suggest local transmission. 13 suspected cases have been reported in Canada.

Are Latvian experts following the spread of monkeypox? The Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control confirms this. "Yes, Latvian epidemiologists are monitoring information on the global monkeypox situation," says Ilze Arāja, a specialist at the Centre. "We have prepared and sent a letter to the relevant Latvian medical associations, such as family doctors, infectologists, urologists, dermatologists and others, informing them that such a disease is spreading and of possible actions."

Smallpox was stopped in 1980, monkeypox comes in its place

The World Health Organization says that the monkeypox virus is mainly transmitted to humans from animals such as rodents and primates, but human-to-human transmission has so far been very rare. Monkeypox is a rare viral zoonosis that occurs in remote regions of central and western Africa. There is no specific vaccine or treatment for monkeypox, but the smallpox vaccine can also protect against monkeypox.

What are the symptoms? They are similar to those seen with ordinary smallpox, but the symptoms are milder. Smallpox was eradicated from the world in 1980, and since the end of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has become the most common infectious disease of this virus group in humans, although of course the number of cases cannot be compared with that of influenza or Covid-19.

Monkeypox was first detected in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in a nine-year-old boy from a region where smallpox had been contained in 1968. Since then, most cases of monkeypox have been reported in rural areas near tropical forests. The Congo River region is the endemic area for monkeypox. According to the World Health Organization, there was a widespread outbreak of monkeypox in 1996-1997.

In 2003, cases of monkeypox were reported in the United States of America. This was the first time the disease had been detected outside the African continent. People in the US contracted the disease from domesticated dogs, which in turn had acquired the virus from rodents that had migrated from Africa. Since 1970, cases have been reported in ten African countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria and others. In 2017, the last major outbreak occurred in Nigeria, with more than 40 people affected.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox starts with high body temperature, headache, muscle and back pain, fatigue. The disease is characterized by swollen lymph nodes and skin lesions ranging from rashes to blisters and scabs. The illness usually lasts two to four weeks. The fatality rate is up to 3.6%. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 6-16 days, but can vary from 5 to 21 days, explains the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Infection with monkeypox virus occurs when a person comes into contact with the virus through contact with an infected animal, person or by touching biological materials or environmental objects that are contaminated with the virus. The virus enters the body through the respiratory tract, mucous membranes or damaged skin, even if the damage is not visible. Person-to-person transmission of the virus occurs mainly via large respiratory droplets, which require relatively long face-to-face contact.

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