What is Monkeypox? Everything You Need to Know
Monkeypox is a viral disease caused by the monkeypox virus that belongs to the genus of viruses called Orthopoxvirus. Though the viral disease sprung into public attention this year due to the recent outbreak, monkeypox has been around for over 60 years and was first detected in research monkeys in 1958. The disease is similar to smallpox. Although milder, it causes the characteristic bumps and rashes in different parts of the body such as the genitals, anus, arms, legs, and feet. Despite originally being restricted to central and western African regions, the disease has recently spread to over 100 countries globally. Of these, 7 countries have reported outbreaks of monkeypox even in the past.
Though monkeypox is not fatal, it can cause considerable discomfort and is capable of leading to complications. Apart from the physical symptoms affecting infected individuals, the illness can cause anxiety as it is still a relatively new disease for the majority of the world. We discuss what you should know about the virus, the illness, monkeypox tests, and how it can be managed in the upcoming sections of the article.
- Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus which has two prevalent strains. While the West African variety is fairly mild and is non-fatal in 99.99% of the cases, the Central African type has a high mortality rate of nearly 10%.
- The virus falls under the same family as smallpox and causes similar bumps and rashes on different parts of the body like its now eradicated cousin.
- Before the recent outbreak in 2022, monkeypox was considered a fairly rare illness. However, it has now turned into a global public health concern with its spread to multiple nations.
- Monkeypox is a zoonotic illness. The disease can be spread from an infected animal to humans, and also the other way around. Originally detected in monkeys, monkeypox is also found in rodents and has since spread to humans.
- Humans can also spread the disease to each other with a variety of transmission routes being implicated.
- So, how do you get monkeypox? Here are some of the common routes of transmission for the virus:
- Close physical contact with an infected person or animal
- Sexual intercourse with an infected individual (includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex)
- Contact with infected bodily fluids
- Close contact with the face, and non-sexual contact with the genitals of an infected individual
- Placental spread to a fetus from an infected mother
- Contact with the open scabs or bumps on an infected person
- Coming in touch with clothes, linen, and other objects that have been in prolonged use by those with monkeypox
- Using sex toys that carry the monkeypox virus from an infected individual
- Respiratory droplets carrying the virus
- Coming into contact with the rashes and bumps of an infected animal
- Being bitten or scratched by animals with monkeypox
- Consuming undercooked and infected meat
- Using products sourced from infected animals
- In the current global outbreak of the disease, the West African strain of the disease is more prevalent.
Monkeypox Symptoms & Signs
- Humans will commonly begin showing signs and symptoms after about 5 to 21 days following exposure. This is the incubation period of the virus in the human body.
- After the onset of the symptoms, they often last for about two to four weeks, before resolving on their own, making monkeypox a self-limiting illness.
- Here are the illness’ most common symptoms:
The initial signs of monkeypox resemble the flu and include:
- Fever: High fever is common and one of the first symptoms to appear in individuals affected by monkeypox.
- Muscle pain and malaise: Generalized muscular tenderness and pain set in soon after fever, and cause considerable discomfort.
- Headache: Severe headache is prevalent in people suffering from the early symptoms of monkeypox, adding to its similarity to flu symptoms.
- Fatigue & tiredness: Exhaustion is common, given that the body’s immune system goes into overdrive when trying to fight the monkeypox infection.
- Chills: The body often resorts to contracting and relaxing the muscles to produce heat when it senses cold, however, in this case, the body aims to raise the temperature to fight and kill off the monkeypox virus.
- Lymphadenopathy: Along with the other flu-like symptoms on the list, swollen lymph nodes too, are an important feature of monkeypox, with enlarged lymph nodes common in the neck, and eventually in the regions where rashes appear.
Rashes and bumps
- The rashes and bumps in monkeypox are some of the most characteristics of the illness.
- They’re prevalent in parts of the body such as the face, arms, legs, trunk, genitals, and around the anus.
- These bumps and rashes might either appear before or after the onset of flu-like symptoms. However, in several cases, infected individuals only experience these lesions and do not suffer from any flu-like symptoms.
- The rashes and bumps start by developing on the face or the arms and progressively spread to the other parts of the body.
- The lesions first start as macules - lesions that are flat and discolored in the initial stages of the disease.
- As monkeypox progresses, the macules slowly begin filling up with fluid and turn into papules that are slightly raised and look like small blisters.
- With the papules getting progressively larger due to increased fluids, the borders become defined and they transform into vesicles carrying a clear fluid.
- Eventually, the vesicles may become filled with pus, becoming a pustule. In case the pustules break open, the space might become ulcerated and turn into an open sore.
- A scab forms over both the sores and pustules, only for them to dry out, and either fall off or heal over time.
- The healed bumps and rashes often leave behind scars.
- The upcoming section displays images of the monkeypox’s bumps, rashes, and scars.
Complications of Monkeypox
- Though monkeypox is a fairly mild illness, it can sometimes cause severe infections, or lead to secondary infections that are often risky.
- Complications of the illness are more prevalent in young children, the elderly, and medically compromised individuals that have weakened immune systems.
- Because of their vulnerable predispositions, the body might take longer to fight the virus, or the illness might spread to essential organ systems, leading to serious infections and potentially life-threatening consequences.
- Some of the most common complications of monkeypox include bronchopneumonia - an infection of the bronchi in the lungs, along with the filling of fluid in the pleural space.
- Among the disease’s more serious complications include viral encephalitis, where the monkeypox virus infects the brain and results in an inflammation of the brain tissue. Encephalitis requires immediate medical attention and comprehensive treatment from qualified physicians.
- Secondary infections by opportunistic pathogens can also be a serious cause for concern, especially in people that have weak or compromised immune systems. Secondary infections can further weaken the body and result in advanced complications. Unabated secondary infections can lead to sepsis - a critical condition that needs round-the-clock care.
- Corneal infections of the monkeypox virus threaten eyesight and can cause blindness. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye and a severe monkeypox infection can permanently damage the eye and its critical tissues.
- In case large vesicles clump together, the resulting sore or blister can lead to a large open wound that will need skin grafting to heal.
Monkeypox Tests & Diagnosis
- While general examinations and visible symptoms are important markers for the diagnosis of the illness, doctors might also conduct more pointed examinations to come to a conclusive decision.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests like this one at Lenco Laboratory are often used to conclusively detect monkeypox in a given sample.
- Doctors might collect tissue in a biopsy procedure before sending it for a PCR test in a lab. Along with tissue samples such as those from the scabs, doctors also collect the fluid within the bumps for PCR analysis.
- Blood tests might also be used to identify antibodies in your bloodstream prepared by your immune system when combating the monkeypox virus. However, this is merely an additional test and not the primary diagnostic method of choice for conclusive medical decision-making.
- Apart from laboratory tests, a distinguishing feature of monkeypox when compared to other viral diseases causing bumps and rashes is the swelling of lymph nodes. Doctors will often check for swollen lymph nodes in case they suspect monkeypox and use other tests as confirmatory methods to aid their diagnosis.
Is There a Cure for Monkeypox?
- Monkeypox has no cure as of now, and is an illness that resolves on its own. Though the condition requires no treatment, the symptoms might take up to 4 weeks to leave.
- Symptomatic treatments to relieve patient discomfort and to manage the symptoms might be prescribed by doctors depending on the severity of the symptoms.
- In certain rare cases, antiviral medications might be used to control the extent of the infection, although this is more of an experimental line of therapy for the disease.
- Monkeypox, however, can be prevented using vaccines, with the smallpox vaccine being over 85% effective in protecting against the illness.
- Doctors often recommend vaccination for those that have come in close contact with an infected individual.
Monkeypox is a viral infection that has recently turned into a concern for global health. While it is a mild disease, it can cause marked discomfort to people that suffer from the illness. Its complications too, can be a cause for concern, and it demands further study for better prevention efforts. If you’re worried about monkeypox and are looking for a test, ask your doctor to refer you to Lenco diagnostic laboratories for the most comprehensive and accurate monkeypox rtPCR tests in the market! For further information, you can also direct your doctor to visit this page, and help them better understand our specific services for monkeypox analyses and testing!