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How Dangerous Can The Monkeypox Virus Be?

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Monkeypox, a disease similar to but less severe than smallpox and endemic to some parts of Africa, specifically the western and central parts of the country, has now created an international stir as some cases have been identified in many other countries for the first time. This is alarming as the number of new cases is on a rise.


Can the Monkeypox virus mutate and take more severe forms like the Coronavirus?

WHO experts have explained that the Monkeypox virus is a double-stranded DNA virus when compared to the Coronavirus which is an RNA virus. DNA viruses like monkeypox have comparatively lesser chances to undergo mutations and change the presentation of disease and severity. Mutation can happen but not as frequent as that observed in RNA viruses. 

Why is the disease called Monkeypox?

This rare viral disease occurs as a result of the monkeypox virus, which was initially discovered in monkeys. In the year 1958, there were a couple of outbreaks of a disease similar to pox in monkey colonies maintained for research. Thus, the disease got its name monkeypox. 

The first case in humans was recorded 12 years later in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The disease has also been recorded in other parts of the country including Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia etc. 

How does Monkeypox spread?

Even though the disease was first identified in monkeys, the natural reservoir of the virus is found in rodents. Thus, it is rodents that tend to spread the infection to other animals like squirrels, monkeys and dogs. 

Human beings who are bitten by an infected animal or are closely handling one can develop monkeypox. The transmission of the infection can happen as a result of contact with droplets, bodily fluids or an open wound of animals that are infected. Similarly, if one comes in contact with the bodily fluids, droplets or wound/scab of an infected human being, they can catch the infection. Intimate contact at the time of sex and transmission from the mother via the placenta to the fetus is possible. 

Monkeypox, although not so common, can be a cause of neurological disorders, frequent headaches, mood disturbances, anxiety and depression.

Dr. Ashish Bajaj, M.B.B.S., M.D

Symptoms of Monkeypox

The symptoms of the disease are very similar to smallpox, but in this case a bit milder. At the initial stage of the infection, one may develop-

  • Fever 
  • Headache and body ache 
  • Swelling of the Lymph nodes 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Chills

In 3 days, once the fever appears, the infected person will develop a face rash, which then spreads to other parts of the body. The lesions first turn to macules and papules, followed by vesicles (blisters) and pustules, finally they dry and turn to scabs as they heal. 

Monkeypox generally shows symptoms for approximately 2-4 weeks, after which the condition improves. In African regions, it results in the death of 1 out of 10 infected persons. 

Currently, there are no specific clinically proven treatments for mpox infection. As with most viral illnesses, the treatment is supportive symptom management. There are, however, prevention measures that can help prevent an outbreak like wearing a mask.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Prevention & treatment of Monkeypox

To avoid catching the infection one should –

  1. Stay away from animals that could carry the infection, especially sick animals in areas where the infection has been identified.
  2. Avoid contact with material or items that have been in contact with an infected person or sick animal.
  3. Immediately isolate monkeypox patients to avoid further spread.
  4. Maintain good hygiene, especially washing hands frequently.
  5. In case of caring for an infected person use personal protective equipment (PPE).
  6. Handle the belongings of an infected person carefully.

For the treatment of monkeypox, your doctor will advise you based on your individual health needs and symptoms. Reach out to a dermatologist or infection clinic if you notice a skin rash or blisters that are preceded by or accompanied by fever, weakness or swollen lymph nodes. Not every rash is monkeypox, but a doctor can evaluate and diagnose the problem well.

Need not fear but awareness is crucial. So far we do not have any cases of MonkeyPox reported in India. But we must be aware and vigilant for the safety of ourselves and others. On a positive note, we must remember that smallpox has been eradicated and experts hope that with the right measures we may be able to contain this disease as well.

Much about the disease and its transmission pattern is still not common knowledge and it is best to take preventive measures against it, now that several non-endemic regions have reported cases as well. 

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