five questions about the dozens of proven cases in Europe and North America

Monkeypox, usually confined to parts of Africa, has emerged in Europe and North America. More than thirty cases have been confirmed in Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada and the United States, and about fifteen others are awaiting results, Thursday May 19, according to the health authorities of the countries concerned.

This multiplication of outbreaks since May 6, the date on which the first cases were reported across the Channel, worry theWorld Health Organization (WHO). Franceinfo answers five questions about this virus transmitted to humans by animals.

Where does this disease come from?

Monkey pox, or monkeypox, is a rare viral zoonosis, mainly observed in isolated areas of central and western Africa, near tropical rainforests. , explains the WHO. It emerged following the global eradication of smallpox in 1980 and the discontinuation of smallpox vaccination. This virus was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Its incubation period generally varies from six to sixteen days. But it can be up to 21 days.

What are its symptoms?

The disease is characterized by symptoms similar to those caused by smallpox in the past. But it is less serious, assures the WHO. Initially, the infected patient experiences a fever, severe headache, muscle aches, characteristic inflammation of the lymph nodes, back pain and severe fatigue. Then pimples appear, first on the face, then in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. The oral mucous membranes, the genitals and the cornea can also be affected by this important rash. The disappearance of symptoms takes, in most cases, two to three weeks, explains the World Health Organization.

How is it transmitted?

Monkey pox belongs to the family of zoonoses (diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa). Most often, the virus is transmitted to humans by infected rodents or primates, via the direct contact with blood, body fluids or broken skin or mucous membranes of these animals. Consumption of undercooked meat from infected animals may also be a risk factor. This disease owes its name to the fact that the virus was discovered in 1958 on monkeys held in captivity in the laboratory.

The Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through respiratory droplet particles during prolonged face-to-face contact, which puts family members of active cases at greater risk of infection. But contamination can come from close contact with skin lesions of an infected subject or objects, such as bedding, recently contaminated with biological fluids or materials from a patient’s lesions, details the WHO.

“It is important to emphasize that monkeypox is not easily transmitted between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low”, says Dr. Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the British Health Security Agency (Ukhsa) *. There is nothing to confirm that human-to-human transmission alone can maintain monkeypox in the human population, assures the WHO.

Is it dangerous for humans?

There is no specific treatment or preventive vaccine against monkeypox. The patient usually recovers spontaneously with the help of proper care. If the smallpox vaccination was effective in preventing the disease at the time of the vaccination campaigns, the vaccine is no longer available to the general public since its production has stopped, recalls the WHO. However, for patients who received the smallpox vaccination at a younger age, the course of the disease is potentially milder.

Severe cases are related to the duration of exposure to the virus, the patient’s state of health before the illness or the severity of the complications induced. Lhe lethality rate can vary greatly (from 1 to 10%) and seems to be linked in particular to the age of the patients, young children being the most susceptible to this virus.

What do we know about the cases identified around the world?

The first confirmed case was reported on May 6 in the United Kingdom by the British Health Security Agency (Ukhsa). The patient had traveled to Nigeria* between the end of April and the beginning of May. Since then, eight other cases have been identified, as of Wednesday, May 18.

The Ukhsa has not established any transmission link between these patients. Four of them* “appear to have been infected in London”. These presented themselves as “gay, bisexual, or having sex with other men”specifies the British agency, which is investigating the source of these infections “rare and unusual”. “Evidence suggests there may be community transmission of monkeypox virus”warns Dr. Susan Hopkins*, chief medical adviser at the Ukhsa.

Portugal, for its part, reported twenty suspected cases on Tuesday. All listed “in the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley”specifies the daily Diaro de Noticias (in Portuguese). “Fourteen cases (are) confirmed and at least two others (have) a high probability of also being infections.” All these cases are “for the majority of young people, all male”and they present “ulcerative lesions“, details the Portuguese General Directorate of Health in a press release. However, “it is not a disease related to sexual options”, assures infectious disease specialist Jaime Nina to the Portuguese newspaper.

Its neighbor, Spain, triggered a health alert on Wednesday after the detection of eight suspected cases in Madrid. The eight men affected are awaiting confirmation of their contaminations, which do not seem to be linked to each other, underlines El Pais (in Spanish). The director of the Center for Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies (CCAES) of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simonhas explained that“monkey pox is unlikely to generate significant transmission [en Espagne]but (this) cannot be ruled out”.

A first confirmed case, in the Stockholm region, was also detected in Sweden on Thursday. According to the Swedish Public Health Agency, the infected person “is not seriously ill, but has received treatment”. Swedish health authorities said they are currently investigating with the support of regional infection control centers to find out “if there are more cases in the country”.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a dozen suspected cases were also revealed on Wednesday in Canada. “For the moment, Quebec has no confirmed cases”informed thea spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Marjorie Larouche, daily The Press. However, the Canadian Public Health Agency says it is monitoring the situation closely, while ensuring that no cases have been reported as of May 18. And in the United States, a man who had recently traveled to Canada tested positive for the disease in Massachusetts.

* All these links refer to content in English

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