What is monkeypox?

May 23, 2022
by Hannah Farrell

Monkeypox is a viral infection which results in symptoms very similar to smallpox, including a fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, enlarged lymph nodes, exhaustion, and a rash.

Does monkeypox come from monkeys?

Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease i.e., it is a virus which can be transmitted from animals to humans. Although it was first identified in captive monkeys, it is thought to originate from rodents in Africa. It easily spreads between humans and occurs primarily in Central and West Africa.

How is monkeypox spread?

Transmission between humans is thought to occur through bodily fluids, skin lesions, and droplets from the respiratory tract. It can also be transmitted through coming into close contact with items such as bedding of an infected person.

The virus can enter the body through the nose, mouth, or through open skin lesions. The incubation period is between seven and 21 days.

What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?

Initially, the infected individual will experience fevers, headache, fatigue, myalgia (muscle ache) and lymphadenopathy. This stage usually lasts between one to five days, following which, skin lesions appear in the mouth, throat, and face, before becoming visible on the skin of the extremities; most commonly the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The rash is initially macular (flat), becoming papular (raised), then vesicular (clear fluid filled), and then pustular (yellow fluid filled). The pustules eventually become crusty and drop off.

In most cases, the individual will recover within four weeks of the onset of symptoms.

Why is monkeypox concerning?

There are two known strains of the monkeypox virus. The first being the Central African (Congo Basin) and the second being the West African.

The Central African strain has a higher mortality rate and is more transmissible.

Whilst uncommon, complications of monkeypox can be severe and include:

  • Bronchopneumonia
  • Sepsis
  • Encephalitis
  • Corneal infection leading to loss of vision

How is monkeypox treated?

Whilst there is no definitive treatment for monkeypox, the virus is self-limiting. The smallpox vaccination has been found to be effective against the disease, and some anti-virals have also shown to make an impact.