NEW YORK, May 20 — The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the dozens of suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox detected since the beginning of May in Europe and North America. So how worried should we be about the spread of this disease that usually occurs near tropical zones and rainforests?

The United States and Canada, as well as the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal, have together reported several dozen suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox, a disease that is not well known in Europe and which nonetheless seems to be spreading more rapidly than usual. This is a matter of concern to the health authorities of the countries in question, as well as to the World Health Organization (WHO), which nevertheless states that the disease is not particularly contagious among humans.

A viral zoonotic disease

First identified in humans in 1970, monkeypox is, according to the WHO, a viral zoonosis, i.e., an infectious disease caused by a virus transmitted to humans by infected animals, such as rodents. Mainly observed near rural areas and tropical forests in Central and West Africa, the disease remains rare in the rest of the world, despite a few cases reported in the United States in the early 2000s.

While the number of cases observed since the beginning of May suggests that monkeypox is beginning to spread, the WHO states that “person-to-person transmission alone cannot easily sustain an outbreak” of the disease. However, to reduce the “limited” risk of human-to-human transmission, the World Health Organization recommends avoiding close physical contact with infected individuals or contaminated materials.

Symptoms and treatments

Monkeypox may manifest itself as fever, severe headache, lymphadenopathy (swelling of the lymph nodes), muscle pain, backache, and intense fatigue. But it is also characterized by rashes mainly on the face, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet, which can spread — albeit to a lesser extent — to other parts of the body.

The WHO specifies that the incubation period “is usually from six to 13 days but can range from five to 21 days,” and that there are currently no specific treatments or vaccines for monkeypox. However, the disease usually resolves spontaneously. Regarding cases, the World Health Organization outlines that “up to a tenth of persons ill with monkeypox may die, with most deaths occurring in younger age groups.”

Specific cases to monitor

In the United Kingdom, where the first case of monkeypox was detected in early May, several confirmed cases have been reported among “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men,” a new development that an incident team is investigating to better understand the spread of the disease, although the virus can be transmitted to anyone. At this stage, while British health authorities are concerned about transmission within the homosexual community, no link has been established. — ETX Studio

As cases of monkeypox have been detected in the UK, Portugal and Spain, should we be concerned about the spread of the virus? — Picture courtesy of metamorworks / Shutterstock