What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is usually passed from animals to humans. The main vectors of monkeypox are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels. Human-to-human transmission usually occurs through close contact with bodily fluids or skin lesions of an infected person (alive or dead) or through contact with recently contaminated objects. Symptoms include severe headache, fever, back pains and large rashes, which eventually form blisters. Most of those infected usually recover without treatment.
There is currently an outbreak of monkeypox in dozens of countries. Those who have close contact with infected persons are most at risk, including healthcare workers and household members. Travellers are advised to seek medical attention if they believe they may have been exposed to an infected person.
Since early May 2022, tens of thousands of confirmed cases of monkeypox have been detected across Europe, North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Asia Pacific region including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India, Japan and South Korea, and Northern Africa and the Middle East, with the United States, Spain, Germany, England and France accounting for the majority of cases. The first case was detected in the United Kingdom in a patient with recent travel history in Nigeria, however, most of the confirmed cases in the latest outbreak have no travel history in central or west Africa, where monkeypox cases usually occur. World Health Organization (WHO) officials have indicated that due to the detection of clusters in non-endemic areas, human-to-human transmission is likely occurring among people who have had close physical contact with symptomatic cases. More cases are expected to be identified as surveillance efforts are stepped up, however, health officials maintain that the risk to the general public is low.
Authorities have stepped up surveillance, case investigation and contact tracing to help identify more cases, how the virus is spreading and to stop further spread. Some countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Fiji, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia have imposed screening measures at ports of entry, while Ethiopian authorities require all inbound air travellers to complete a monkeypox e-Health Declaration form before boarding, and officials in Laos imposed an entry ban for travellers from countries in Africa where monkeypox is endemic. However, other countries are so far reluctant to impose similar bans, and widespread restrictions similar to those imposed due to COVID-19 remain unlikely. On 23 July, the WHO declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which gives monkeypox the same designation as COVID-19, Ebola, swine flu, Polio and the Zika virus.
The same designation also allows for a greater coordinated response to the outbreak. On 29 July, Brazilian public health officials announced the country’s first monkeypox-related death, the first death from the disease outside Africa. Later on the same day, Spanish public health officials recorded Europe’s first two fatalities from the virus. Close physical contact with infected persons is the most significant risk factor for monkeypox infection, therefore, health workers and household members of positive cases are most at risk of contracting the disease.
Travellers should avoid contact with sick people as well as materials used by sick people which may be contaminated. Travellers are also advised to avoid contact with dead or live wild animals such as rodents and primates, and avoid eating wild game/bushmeat and using products derived from wild animals from Africa. Seek medical attention if you believe you may have been exposed to an infected person. The smallpox vaccine is 85 percent effective against monkeypox. While there is no specific treatment, monkeypox can be controlled through medicine.