Monkeypox: A new pandemic to fear?

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Although the research is limited, the researchers suggest that elderly patients with comorbidities could experience severe symptoms if they contract MPX.

As of September 1, 2022, there were 124 cases of MPX in Australia, including 64 cases in Victoria, 48 in New South Wales, five in Western Australia, three in Queensland, two in the Australian Capital Territory and two in South Australia. .

Just months after the country took a quick breather following the easing of COVID-19 measures and restrictions in late July, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the MPX situation was an incident communicable disease of national importance.

MPX is a nationally reportable disease for the next six months. During this time, an examination will determine whether to list the virus permanently.

MPX disease is usually mild and people usually recover within weeks and expert medical groups have developed guidelines on MPX treatment and vaccines.

There are signs, symptoms and preventative measures that the general public and older Australians should be aware of.

But where does MPX come from and how can it affect you?

Monkeypox explained

MPX is not a new disease. It was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.

MPX is a viral zoonotic disease, an infectious disease that is passed from non-human animals to humans through direct contact or through food, water or the environment. These diseases historically occurred mainly in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, which have since spread to other regions.

MPX is similar to smallpox. This is a rare viral illness that can become serious, but for most people the symptoms go away on their own after two to four weeks.

In May 2022, MPX was first reported in Australia after multiple cases were identified in several non-endemic countries.

Is it dangerous for the elderly?

The greatest threat of the emerging MPX epidemic is to elderly patients with comorbidities.

A higher prevalence in people, especially in immunocompromised people and the elderly, can provide more opportunities for the virus to mutate, often leading to infection and severe symptoms.

But older people who have had smallpox or who were vaccinated against smallpox before they stopped giving them in the 1980s are better protected.

As MPX belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, it has been suggested that antibodies resulting from smallpox or receiving a smallpox vaccine may reduce the likelihood of developing severe symptoms from MPX.

The limited research currently available on MPX means researchers are unable to draw firm conclusions about the nature of the virus and how it affects different demographics.

Signs and symptoms

MPX symptoms can begin after as little as five days up to 21 days after exposure.

Symptoms may include:

  • A rash or distinctive lesions (lumps that turn into pimples, blisters, or sores, and may burst to form ulcers or scabs)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Articular pain
  • Back ache
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion

The rash changes often and goes through different stages before it crusts over and falls off. It can appear as lesions that usually start on the face and look like chickenpox, but larger. They can vary in size and number with as few as a single lesion to several thousand.

The rash can also develop in the mouth and spread to other parts of the body, including the hands, feet, and chest. Some people have reported a rash appearing in the genital and perianal areas without spreading to other parts of the body.

Some people may only experience this rash without other symptoms, but other people have had anorectal pain without other symptoms. The rash can be painful, especially if the lesions join together or appear in the mouth or rectum.

A person with MPX is thought to be contagious from the time they develop symptoms until all scabs have healed and a new layer of skin has formed, which can take several weeks.

You should seek medical attention immediately if you develop any of these symptoms after returning from overseas or after coming into contact with a case.

Transmission

Transmission of MPX between people can occur through:

  • Close contact with rashes, blisters or sores on the skin
  • Body fluids such as respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes
  • Contaminated objects such as sheets and towels

Transmission through respiratory droplets is less common and usually occurs only with prolonged face-to-face contact.

Although the virus is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), transmission can occur through intimate physical contact during sex. In this case, it is likely that infectious rashes, blisters or sores are the mode of transmission.

Treatment and prevention

Most people need no treatment, or only supportive treatment, for MPX. This may include simple pain relief, but antiviral treatment may be needed in patients with more severe symptoms.

Research testing the efficacy of the vaccine in humans has yet to be conducted, although a study assessing its efficacy and safety among healthcare professionals in Congo is currently underway.

Vaccines can be given before or after a person is exposed to the virus, but prior exposure is recommended for the best protection.

People with MPX should isolate themselves from others until the sores are completely cleared. Household members should avoid physical contact with the infected person, which includes touching objects such as linens or towels that have been in contact with the infected person. Similar to what you would do if you had an active case of COVID-19 in your home.

Washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is important for both the infected person and the people they live with.

If an infected person cannot self-isolate, they should wear a face mask when around other people, especially when receiving medical care.

Infectious diseases: yesterday and today

Medicine and science have come a long way since the pandemics of old, like the Spanish flu or poliomyelitis.

Countries are better able to address and reduce the prevalence of dangerous viruses, including its recovery from the current COVID-19 pandemic.

So, although Monkeypox has had a recent resurgence, you should rest assured that there are treatments and measures in place to protect you from the virus.

Following basic hygiene care and social distancing, as we have followed during the COVID-19 pandemic, will help reduce your risk of contracting Monkeypox.

Are you worried about Monkeypox? Let us know in the comments below.

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