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How monkeypox is transmitted from person to person and how to prevent infection

There are many types of poxviruses, including monkeypox, smallpox, and chickenpox.Roger Harris/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

  • Monkeypox has been confirmed in the US, with more cases reported in the UK and Europe.

  • The virus rarely spreads between humans, so recent cases have raised concerns among health officials.

  • It is possible that the disease behaves differently if it is caused by a new virus.

Monkeypox, a close relative of smallpox that usually causes milder illness, rarely spreads between people.

In the regions of West and Central Africa where the virus is endemic, humans are most often exposed through contact with wild animals: either by bites and scratches, or during the preparation of bushmeat.

Human monkeypox infections are particularly rare on other continents away from animal hosts of the virus. Cases of monkeypox have previously been reported in the United States and Europe, historically linked to travel to Africa or contact with imported animals.

Recent reports of monkeypox in the UK, Portugal, Spain and the US have raised concerns among international health officials as the pattern of transmission appears unusual, at least in part.

On Friday, the first two cases of monkeypox in children in the United States were confirmed Monday by top health officials – one in a toddler in California and another in an infant who is not a US resident but who tested positive in Washington, DC, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re concerned that this is very different from what we typically think of monkeypox,” Jennifer McQuiston, an expert in animal-to-human disease transmission at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told STAT. -United.

Monkeypox lesions are highly contagious

Once monkeypox enters humans, the virus causes flu-like symptoms including fever, body aches and exhaustion, and a red rash that develops into pus-filled boils.

When boils burst and scab over, the infection can spread through direct contact with the lesions. The scabs it creates are very, very contagious and can even spread to a blanket or bed sheet.

“You have lesion material — pus, scabs — all of these legions are teeming with a ton of virus, and this virus is extraordinarily stable,” CDC epidemiologist Andrea McCollum told Insider. “The virus is a double-stranded DNA virus, which by nature is really copious.”

Fortunately, monkeypox can be easily removed from surfaces with bleach. Clinicians treating patients often wear gowns, gloves, goggles and face masks, but the disease is not so transmissible that people need to wear hazmat suits around infected patients.

“It’s not like Ebola where you have wards full of patients,” McCollum said. “You can see some of them.”

Sharing air with an infected person can pose a risk

Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox can also occur through prolonged face-to-face contact, according to the CDC.

The virus can spread via large exhaled droplets – like the spray from a cough or sneeze. The droplets that can carry monkeypox are much larger than, say, coronavirus particles, which are tiny, airborne and can float in the air. Monkeypox cannot travel that far.

Droplet transmission is more likely to affect close contacts of infected people, such as household members and healthcare workers. According to the WHO, the longest documented chain of transmission for monkeypox was six successive person-to-person infections.

Although it’s rare for monkeypox to spread between humans, the pattern of transmission overseas has left health officials questioning. At least four people infected with monkeypox in the UK have not reported recent travel outside the country.

“You have two clusters that have no connection to travel or to other people known to be associated with a recognized outbreak. This suggests that there are unknown chains of transmission,” McQuiston told STAT.

Having intimate relationships counts as close contact

Prolonged face-to-face interactions include intimate contact, CDC epidemiologist Andrea McCollum told Insider.

The UK Health Safety Agency raised the possibility of sexual transmission in its press briefing, after identifying four of the monkeypox cases as men who have sex with men. However, the monkeypox virus can be transmitted to anyone who touches the wounds or bodily fluids of an infected person, whether or not in a sexual context. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with it.

According to a press release from Swedish public health officials, most monkeypox patients reported in Europe have lesions around the genitals. Transmission among men who have sex with men may be related to the location of these lesions rather than the nature of the virus.

Some experts dispute the focus on sexuality as stigmatizing and unfounded. Still, the UKHSA urges gay, bisexual or men who are sexually active with men to watch for rashes or strange legions and contact a sexual health service if they notice anything unusual.

Simple ways to prevent infection

“It’s a serious disease, and something to avoid and try to prevent,” Jimmy Whitworth, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Insider.

One of the best ways to do this, as McCollum pointed out, is to try to avoid air travel when you’re sick and be careful around others if you think you are. to wear a mask, wash your hands and keep open sores or lesions (which may be inside the mouth, on the hands and on the feet) to yourself.

But it is not too difficult to prevent the spread of monkeypox infections. Take the case of a patient with monkeypox who was returning from Nigeria to Texas in 2021. At the time, he didn’t know he was sick, but he wore a mask on the plane (for COVID), kept his covered rash and immediately went to hospital the next day for containment when the rash spread to his face and he realized he might be really sick.

Remarkably, no one else he came into contact with in the United States caught the virus from him – not his fellow flight attendants, not his carpool driver from the airport, not the friend who took him. taken to the hospital the next day, nor any of his doctors and nurses.

“We would have liked it even more if a sick person didn’t get on a plane, regardless of the illness,” McCollum said. “But everything that happened when that person came back to the United States really worked. I think it all benefited a larger situation, both for the patient and for public health.”

Read the original Insider article


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