Monkeypox is a new Global threat. On July 23, the World Health Organisation (WHO) DirectorGeneral declared the escalating global monkeypox outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). According to WHO, human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today, the virus does not only affects countries in west and central Africa but the rest of the world. Amref Health Africa Bureau Guinee’s expert, Dr Kourouma Kabinet MD MPH, the Disease Control Coordinator answers several of the most commonly asked questions about monkeypox
What is monkeypox, where did it originate from and how is it spread?
Monkeypox is a disease caused by the orthopoxvirus. It is a viral zoonosis, which means that this virus can be transmitted to humans by animals. It can be transmitted from one person to another by close contact with a person who has a monkeypox rash, including the person’s own skin, face-to-face, skin-to-skin, mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-skin contact as well as sexual contact. It can also be transmitted to humans when they come into physical contact with an infected animal. In addition, the virus can also be transmitted by eating products from infected animals. Another mode of transmission is through contaminated objects and the environment. When an infected person handles clothing, bed linens or towels, objects, electronics and surfaces and another person touches these objects and surfaces, that person can become infected.
Who is at risk of being infected with the monkeypox virus?
Everyone is at risk but those who are most at risk are people who live with or have close contact (including sexual contact) with someone who has monkeypox, or who have regular contact with animals that may be infected. Secondly, those most at risk of developing a severe form of the disease or complications are pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised individuals.
What are the symptoms and how is it treated?
Monkeypox can cause a variety of signs and symptoms (mild to severe). The most common symptoms are fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, loss of energy and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms are followed or accompanied by the appearance of a rash that may last two to three weeks. The rash may affect the face, palms, soles, eyes, mouth, throat, groin, genital and/or anal areas. The number of lesions varies from one to several thousand. The lesions are initially flat and then fill with fluid before forming a crust that dries out and eventually falls off, while a new layer of skin forms underneath.
Symptoms usually last two to three weeks and disappear on their own. Supportive care, such as medication for pain or fever, may be required. People with the disease remain contagious until all lesions have crusted over, the scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath.
What should people do to avoid getting Monkeypox?
Limit close contact with people who are suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox, or with animals that may be infected. Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that may have been contaminated by an infected person. It is also important to be informed about the monkeypox situation in your area and have an open discussion with people with whom you have close contact (sexual contact).
Should the outbreak of monkeypox in West Africa be a concern to other African countries?
Yes, because the disease does not take into account the border, from one area to another, from one population to another. People move from one country to another or from one continent to another.
Is there a monkeypox vaccine and is it more accessible to people at higher risk of exposure in countries affected?
Yes and no. This is because there are efforts to be made at this time. A vaccine has recently been approved for the prevention of monkeypox. However, some countries recommend vaccination of people at risk. Many years of research have led to the development of newer, safer vaccines against an eradicated disease called smallpox, which may also be useful against monkeypox. This vaccine has been approved for the prevention of the virus. Vaccination should only be considered for people who are at risk (for example, someone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox). Nonetheless, mass vaccination is not recommended at this time.
What should be done to ensure the virus does not spread to other countries?
In light of the evolving outbreak, this is a major concern, as we do not have complete control over our borders, but we can make preconditions through strengthening prevention, surveillance, diagnosis and case management. All of these must be accompanied by broad risk communication and community engagement.
Most people confuse the Monkeypox disease with other viruses, is monkeypox related to smallpox and chicken pox?
No, chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus while monkeypox is caused by an orthopoxvirus (a family of viruses to which monkeypox virus belongs) or simply the monkeypox virus. Previous exposure to chickenpox does not provide protection against monkeypox.
Several myths and misconceptions have cropped up about monkeypox and continue to spread online and in communities.
How can we counter it and ensure that communities have the right information?
Establish a rumour management system in all health districts to counter false information, conduct extensive community outreach, and involve the media more in rumour management.
For more information and media contact
Media and External Relations
Amref Health Africa Headquarters