What is Monkeypox, and Why are More Cases Popping Up?

The UK is reeling from a second case of monkeypox, with many people asking what this illness is and what the likelihood is of more cases.

There have now been two confirmed cases of monkeypox in the UK in as many weeks, with the BBC reporting that a patient at Blackpool Victoria Hospital tested positive for monkeypox and is now being treated at Liverpool University Hospital (LUH).

The first case, which was reported in Cornwall, is thought to have occurred independently of the Blackpool patient. The Cornwall patient is being treated at the Royal Free in London.

“We are treating a patient who has tested positive for monkeypox,” Dr. Mike Beadsworth, clinical director of the Tropical and Infectious Diseases Unit at the LUH, told BBC News. “The patient is being cared for on our specialist infectious and tropical diseases unit, by highly trained staff who are experienced in dealing with a variety of infectious diseases. All necessary precautions are being taken by specialist staff and there is currently no risk to other staff, patients or visitors.”

What is monkeypox, anyway?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. As the name suggests, its carriers include monkeys, though it can infect other species. People usually get monkeypox by handling  monkeys.

The virus does not spread easily—relying on close contact between people—and though unsightly and even distressing, it tends to resolve itself after the virus has run its course. For this reason it is referred to as a “self-limiting” disease.

Monkeypox Symptoms

Symptoms are similar, though not identical to, smallpox cases, with patients complaining of fever, intense headaches, joint or muscle pain and lethargy. The patients may then develop an unsightly rash starting on their faces and then spreading. The rash will eventually progress to scabs. The rash itself can be alarming but does usually fade within a few weeks.

Most patients experience no long-term side-effects from monkeypox but, as with all illnesses where fever and other such symptoms are at play, there can be complications. A proportion of monkeypox cases will prove fatal.

Why are these cases popping up now?

According to Doctor Nick Phin, Deputy Director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, there was a large outbreak of monkeypox in Nigeria in September of 2017. This led to over 150 suspected cases and dozens of confirmed cases. According to the World Health Organization there was at least one fatality in a patient who had a compromised immune system.

Since that time, a handful of cases have surfaced every so often, and it is possible that people who travel through Nigeria may come into contact with the virus at some point. Whether they contract the virus or not is another matter.

In the case of the two patients diagnosed in England, both had recently spent time in Nigeria. Doctor Phin adds that there appears to be no other immediate connection between the two, “However, it is very unusual to see two cases in such a relatively short space of time. We are working hard to contact individuals, including healthcare workers, that might have come into contact with the individual to provide information and health advice.”

Is there a risk of a wider monkeypox outbreak?

That is almost certainly not going to happen, since monkeypox is not native to the UK, and the virus is easily contained. As a result, risk to the general public is incredibly small, and every precaution is being taken to further reduce any chances of the virus spreading.

In the meantime, Public Health England is working closely with NHS officials to track down people with whom the patients might have had close contact. This includes contacting people who were on the same flights back from Nigeria, so that they can be informed of the unlikely event of transmission and can be aware of needing to go to the doctors if they do start to feel unwell.

Monkeypox sounds alarming, and there are certainly a lot of scary headlines surrounding this story. The reality, however, is far less intimidating. While these cases are prompting questions for healthcare staff, at this stage there seems no reason for the general public to be alarmed by these isolated and managed cases of the monkeypox virus.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

52 comments

Caitlin L
Caitlin L18 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Chad Anderson
Chad A19 days ago

Thank you.

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Olivia M
Olivia M23 days ago

tyfs

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Janis K
Janis K25 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L26 days ago

thanks for this

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heather g
heather g27 days ago

Some of the west African nations kill monkeys and their carcasses are found in markets.

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Leo C
Leo C27 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Edith B
Edith B28 days ago

This is the first I have heard of Monkey pox, hope it goes away.

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Shirley S
Shirley S28 days ago

Thanks for sharing this important information.

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Diane E
Diane E28 days ago

Thank you. Information is valuable and it helps to prevent panic.

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