What is the Monkeypox Virus?
False claims over a disease that is not well-known or understood can lead to mass hysteria, and it is important to rely on the medical advice of experts rather than claims circling the internet. Over the last few months, in Australia, there have been several instances of the Monkeypox virus being transmitted through local community infections, meaning that they are transmitted through human-to-human contact in regions that are not known to have many cases.
So what is the monkeypox virus and how can it be spread through communities? The monkeypox virus is a rare viral infection that is known as a viral zoonosis, meaning that it was originally a virus present in animals but has been transmitted to people. This disease is within the same family of viral infections like smallpox and the symptoms are therefore very similar to this disease, though it has been determined that it is not as severe.
In order for human-to-human contact to take place, you would have to be in prolonged close contact with an infected person, where you may be able to inhale droplets through the air, or you would have to come into contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. The majority of people who become infected would have more than likely travelled to west or central Africa, though since around May of 2022, there have been a number of new monkeypox virus cases from people who have not travelled to these regions, meaning that there is local community transmission outside of these areas.
What are the Symptoms of the Monkeypox Virus?
The symptoms of monkeypox are generally mild, with the first symptoms usually appearing around seven to fourteen days after a person has been exposed to the viral infection. The most common first sign of monkeypox is a fever and after around two days, rashes may begin to appear in and around the mouth, the face and then to other parts of the body. The rash is one of the most common ways that monkeypox can be detected as it uniquely starts out flat and red and then turns into pustules which will crust and eventually fall off. Along with these signs, the following are symptoms of the monkeypox virus, as defined by the NSW government health website:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
The illness will typically last around two to four weeks and you are able to identify whether you are infected with the disease through testing the scabs, blister fluid or through a blood test.
What is the mode of transmission of the Monkeypox Virus?
Monkeypox is generally transmitted one of two ways, either through prolonged close contact with a person who has been infected with the virus or through coming in contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. When it comes to prolonged exposure and being near someone with the disease, droplets can enter the air and then be inhaled by you, which may lead to infection. Wearing a mask can lessen the chances of this happening as this will help to ensure that droplets are not able to pass through the infected person's mouth.
Being infected through bodily fluids could involve coming into contact with saliva, blood or sweat. This could mean that sharing bedding and clothing could put you in contact with the monkeypox virus. If you have been in close contact with someone or begin to develop any symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor and self-isolate to ensure that you are not spreading the disease to those around you.
How Is the Monkeypox Virus Diagnosed?
One of the most important steps to take if you have been experiencing symptoms of the monkeypox virus is to get tested immediately. As monkeypox is spread through prolonged exposure, you are putting those closest to you at risk if you do not take the steps to find out if you are infected. The monkeypox virus is tested by sending samples of either the blister fluid that builds up or a scab itself to a lab to be tested. A PCR test is done on these samples and you may also need to submit a blood sample that can then be tested to see if you have antibodies for the infection.
How to Prevent the Monkeypox Virus?
Monkeypox can be spread in a number of different ways and if a person close to you suspects that they have been infected, it is important to take the necessary steps to ensure that you are protected. The first step in prevention is to avoid close contact with anyone and let those who you have previously been in contact with know that you suspect you may be infected so they themselves can isolate and get tested. If you have been confirmed to have monkeypox, the following steps can be taken to prevent further spreading of the disease.
- Isolate yourself for the duration of your illness, which usually lasts around two to four weeks. During the incubation period, which is around one to two weeks from the time you were infected, you will not be contagious. As soon as you develop symptoms, however, you will be able to spread the disease. isolating yourself while you are sick can prevent the monkeypox virus from spreading to those around you.
- Wear protective gear, like gloves and a mask if you have to be around others, say for example if you have to go to the hospital. Masks and gloves can help to avoid you touching objects and perhaps spreading the monkeypox virus, also be aware that it can be spread through touching clothing that has come into contact with bodily fluids.
- Once you begin to feel better, make sure to wash any clothing or bedding that you would have had contact with while you were sick. Things like sweat and bodily fluids can be transmitted through contact with these surfaces, so it is important to make sure that they are washed with heat.
What should be done to reduce the risk of human-to-human transmission?
When it comes to human-to-human transmissions, it is important that you self-isolate if you have any symptoms or have been in close contact with a person who has been confirmed to be positive. While the monkeypox virus is not contagious until symptoms develop, you could have small traces of the viral infection which could be transmitted. Avoiding touching any objects where bodily fluid could have been transferred, like bedding and cutlery, will also help to prevent infecting others through human contact.
Another way to prevent infection through human contact is to have the smallpox vaccine. While this vaccine is not specifically designed to prevent the monkeypox virus from infecting you, studies done by both the CDC and World Health organisation estimate that in 85% of cases, it is effective in preventing monkeypox.
How can the risk of animal-to-human transmission be reduced?
The monkeypox virus is a viral zoonosis, meaning that it originates from animals and spreads to humans. Less is known about the relationship of animal-to-human transmissions, but it has been determined that the spreading happens much as it does with humans, through contact with bodily fluids, like blood and the lesions that occur from the disease, and can also be transmitted through an animal biting you, as the saliva would more than likely enter your body upon contact. To reduce the risk of this happening, it is important to avoid touching or being near animals that are sick, while also keeping the infected animal isolated, to avoid the monkeypox virus from spreading.
What is the Relationship Between Monkeypox and Smallpox?
The monkeypox and smallpox virus are both an Orthopoxvirus, which is why the two viruses have similar symptoms and why the smallpox vaccine can help to prevent severe illness in most cases. It has been determined that monkeypox is less severe than the closely related smallpox, and the likelihood of it being fatal if you are infected is less. While there is a clear relationship between smallpox and the monkeypox virus, many people are not aware of the differences in severity (which is lower) and this has led to many false claims and mass hysteria circling on the internet.
While it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the monkeypox virus, it is generally not seen as a disease that is easily spread, since such close contact is needed to spread it. Having the information on hand and being aware of the symptoms can help to ensure that if you are potentially infected, you are aware of the correct steps to take to avoid spreading the disease until you are recovered. Following the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and using sources from the Australian Government Department of Health can help ensure that you are kept up to date with valid and reliable information.