Monkeypox Cases Have Risen To 56. Here's What We Know So Far

The virus, usually found in West and Central Africa, has caused a spike in cases around the world recently.
Monkeypox can give people a temperature, along with muscles aches, fatigue and a rash across the body
evrim ertik via Getty Images
Monkeypox can give people a temperature, along with muscles aches, fatigue and a rash across the body

Monkeypox cases in the UK have risen again, meaning 56 people have now been confirmed with the infection as of Monday.

Here’s everything we know about the virus so far.

What is it?

Monkeypox is a viral infection, common in West and Central Africa. Cases in Europe have occurred before, but usually in small numbers.

Some people have compared it to smallpox, but it’s actually milder, less infectious and less deadly. It is called monkeypox because it was first discovered in monkeys in a lab back in 1958, but it can be transmitted to humans via other animals too.

It usually disappears within a week on its own, and people usually recover without long-term health effects.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said that the west African clade, the less severe strain seen in Europe during this recent outbreak, has a case fatality rate of around 3.6%. This estimate is based from studies conducted in African nations where the virus is more common.

No deaths have been reported from the current outbreak as of yet.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches

  • Backache

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Chills

  • Exhaustion

  • Weakness

  • Rash

The rash can start on the face before moving to the body. It gradually transforms, and can form sores comparable to chickenpox or syphilis before scabbing. The scab falls off but can leave a scar.

The incubation period (the time before symptoms appear) is usually from six to 13 days but can range from five to 21 days.

The stages of monkeypox lesions, according to the UKHSA
UK Health Security Agency via PA Media
The stages of monkeypox lesions, according to the UKHSA

How is it transmitted?

Usually monkeypox can be traced back to travel from West and Central Africa, where people have picked up the infection from animals in rainforests.

However, recent numbers suggest that is no longer the case. As the WHO explains: “The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox with no direct travel links to an endemic area represents a highly unusual event.”

Transmission appears to be occurring between people who have close physical contact, where people have direct contact with a lesion, respiratory droplets or contaminated materials like bedding, clothes or utensils.

This has falsely led some to believe monkeypox can be listed as a sexually transmitted infection, but it does not pass through sexual fluids.

Even so, this has sent some alarm bells ringing because monkeypox transmission has never been described this way before.

Most of the UK cases so far are among “individuals who self-identify as gay, or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men”, according to the UKHSA’s Dr Susan Hopkins.

How does it compare to Covid?

The government has made it clear that the monkeypox cases are not comparable to the early Covid infections we saw at the beginning of the pandemic.

As it is transmitted through close contact rather than as a respiratory virus, this makes it unlikely to spread through the population like Covid did.

The chief secretary to the treasury Simon Clarke told Sky News on Monday that No.10 was monitoring it “very very closely”, but that he was not “concerned about our ability to handle the situation”.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the UKHSA, has previously said the risk to the general population was “extremely low”.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox widely available at the moment.

However, the smallpox vaccine is said to provide good protection against monkeypox as well – this particular jab eradicated smallpox from the world in 1980 – although the government is yet to encourage anyone to get this jab.

How can people avoid it?

The WHO recommends protecting yourself by avoiding skin to skin or face to face contact with anyone with symptoms.

It recommends practising safer sex too, and keeping your hands clean with water and soap, or hand sanitiser, and maintain respiratory etiquette.

If caring for someone with suspected monkeypox, you should wear a mask and clean objects and surfaces that have been touched.

If someone develops a rash and starts to suspect they have symptoms, the organisation recommends they should isolate until the scabs fall off (including abstaining from sex).

The WHO also suggests the “general precautionary measures recommended against Covid-19 are also expected to largely protect from monkeypox virus transmission”.

Why do some people have to self-isolate?

The UKHSA has recommended that anyone with a high risk of catching monkeypox after having direct or household contact with a confirmed case, should isolate for three weeks.

These people are also advised to send their details for contact tracing, avoid travel and contact with the immunosuppressed, pregnant people and children under 12.

Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, told the Guardian: “The vast majority of identified cases are isolating at home and do not require hospital admission.”

Where else is it?

The World Health Organisation is currently investigating the disease and expects the case numbers to rise. There have already been 85 confirmed cases detected across eight EU countries.

During this outbreak, the virus was first identified in the UK, but has now been traced back to Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Canada, France, and the US.

Monkeypox is endemic is Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana (only in animals), Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.