Monkeypox is neither COVID-like contagious nor small pox-like deadly

Pox means any disease that ruptures skin and mucous membranes. Smallpox was one of the most devastating diseases that ended in 1980, thanks to vaccination! Recently, a less deadly cousin of smallpox called monkeypox is in global news. Although monkeypox cannot be a COVID-like pandemic and not a single case has been reported in Pakistan as of May 24, 2022, National Institute of Health has placed federal and health officials on high alert.

By Jamshed Arslan

In this essay, I will describe why you should not panic, but stay cautious of monkeypox.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a member of pox family of viruses called Poxviridae that causes diseases like smallpox, chickenpox and cowpox (lumpy skin disease). Monkeypox got its name from the fact that it was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in Congo. Since then, monkeypox has largely been limited to African countries, but international travel has now brought monkeypox to the forefront of mainstream media.

Can I be infected with monkeypox?

Monkeypox spreads through droplets or virus-containing body fluids, but transmission via direct contact is also observed like that for measles or COVID-19. The natural hosts and the primary sources of infections in humans are monkeys, squirrels, mouse, rats and other rodents. According to the World Health Organization, the recent surge in monkeypox in North America and Europe came from men who have sex with other men.

What are the distinct symptoms of monkeypox?

Once infected, the infection starts showing symptoms within a week or two, but the incubation period of up to three weeks has also been reported. For the first three days, the symptoms are non-specific such as high fever, extreme fatigue, malaise and headache. After three days, monkeypox leads to distinct symptoms like swelling in underarms and groin, followed by development of skin lesions of various types. The rash starts from face or genitals and spreads to rest of the body.

Diagnosis

On May 24, 2022, the Federal Ministry of Health notified that no diagnostic facility for monkeypox is available in Pakistan. However, physicians can use their judgment to diagnose monkeypox based on symptoms, which can ideally be confirmed through PCR, as is done with COVID-19.

Treatment

Only symptomatic treatment is recommended since monkeypox resolves on its own within 2-3 weeks.

Precautions

Airports of many countries have been on high alert. The person showing symptoms should be isolated. Example of Belgium can be followed where quarantine has been implemented for the monkeypox cases.

How much should I be worried?

Although the recent cases in Europe (Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Italy) and North America are alarming, the monkeypox spread is not as fast as that of COVID-19. Monkeypox is not a fatal disease. Smallpox vaccine is quite effective against monkeypox, so you may expect better control of this disease in the future.

Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology) Skilled in basic and clinical research and scientific writing, with over a decade of teaching and research experience.