Monkeypox: The ‘severe’ signs that can prove ‘life-threatening’ as cases rise in the UK

Monkeypox: The ‘severe’ signs that can prove ‘life-threatening’ as cases rise in the UK

Monkeypox: Dr Chris outlines the main symptoms

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Monkeypox continues to rise across the UK, with 71 cases detected so far. The outbreak is not confined to the UK. It has now been found in 19 countries outside of Africa, including the UAE, Spain, Portugal, the US and Australia. Monkeypox is a rare infection that’s mainly spread by wild animals in parts of West or Central Africa. The rate of human transmission is surprising and worrying, but so far the consensus among scientists is that monkeypox does not pose a major threat.

Although mostly mild, it’s important to note that monkeypox can prove “life-threatening”, warned microbiologist Doctor Oren Kobiler of Tel Aviv University.

It can prove life-threatening in mostly high risk populations, such as young children, pregnant women, people with comorbidities (those with more than disease or condition) and immunocompromised individuals, the doc warned.

“Sepsis, encephalitis [inflammation of the active tissues of the brain], pneumonia and secondary bacterial infection are considered signs of severe disease and increased risk of mortality.”

It’s important to stress that monkeypox is usually a mild illness that does not spread easily between people and gets better by itself, with most people recovering within a few weeks.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says: “The risk to the UK population remains low, but this is being kept under review as we continue to investigate and learn more about transmission patterns and risks.”

According to Doctor Kobiler, the most common first symptoms are fever, headache, muscle aches, weakness and swollen lymph nodes.

“After 24 to 72 hours the rash starts to appear, most commonly it starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body,” he explained.

According to the doc, sometimes the rash is only localised near the sites of viral entry.

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He continued: “The rash starts as red spots then becomes swollen and full of fluids. Rash can last for two to four weeks.”

How bad could things get?

Despite the unprecedented rise in cases outside of Africa, the numbers are starting from a very low place.

“While I expect there will be more cases before this outbreak is going to end (as we have yet to discover all transmission chains), the probability that this will become a major epidemic is quite low,” said Doctor Kobiler.

According to the doc, the suggested R number of monkeypox is below 1 so the likelihood for maintaining an ongoing infection in human populations is low.

Furthermore, “as we have vaccines and antivirals ready, I don’t anticipate significant morbidity and mortality”, he said.

Nonetheless, there are two high risk, low probability worst case scenarios, Doctor Kobiler said.

Firstly, “the virus will obtain mutations that will make it more transmissible and more lethal.”

However, he was quick to point out that there is no evidence that this is the case and DNA viruses such as monkeypox have lower mutation rates compared with RNA viruses, so new mutations can occur but not so often.

The second worst case scenario is that “humans will infect animals and the virus will become endemic in the wild animal population in the northern hemisphere”.

In this unlikely but implausible scenario, the world would see recurrent animal to human transmission, he added.

What we know about transmission so far

Recent cases in UK and Europe have been found predominantly in gay and bisexual men, “so we are particularly urging these communities to be alert to the symptoms and seek help if they are concerned”, says the UKHSA.

Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex.

It can also be passed on through other close contact with a person who has monkeypox or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox.

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