Should we be worried about the global outbreak of monkeypox?

The world is still very much in the grip of Covid-19 and we must prepare to contend with another virus, albeit seen as much less threatening.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), monkeypox is a disease of global public health importance. Although endemic mostly in central and western Africa, cases are increasingly being reported from non-endemic countries.

WHO has recorded more than 500 cases in more than 30 countries including the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and a number of European nations. Studies are underway to fully understand the epidemiology, sources of infection, and transmission patterns.

Monkeypox is a zoonosis, an extremely rare disease transmitted from animals to humans; it is recognised as a much less severe cousin of smallpox. WHO says that the situation is evolving; as surveillance expands, more cases are expected from more non-endemic countries.

Usually self-limiting, studies have shown that monkeypox may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women, or persons with health conditions.

As the source of the monkeypox outbreak is still being investigated, we can only look at all possible modes of transmission to safeguard public health. Surveillance and rapid identification of new cases will be critically important—prevention is better than cure.

What we clearly know is that infected persons are the most significant risk factor, which is why raising awareness about risk factors and educating people about prevention measures will go a long way in reducing exposure to the virus.

There is, as yet, no proven treatment for the virus infection, but since monkeypox is related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine is known to also protect against monkeypox, with a greater than 85 percent efficacy, according to some reports.

The good news is that the Ministry of Health is keeping strict vigilance over the situation and the surveillance system has been activated. As precautionary measures, travellers and the general public are advised to maintain good personal hygiene, wear a  face mask and be aware of the signs and symptoms of monkeypox such as rash with blisters on the face, hands, feet, body, eyes, mouth or genitals, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, muscle ache and backache.

The disease is preventable. There is no better measure than observing personal hygiene and care.