monkeypox

Monkeypox: An unfamiliar virus spreading fast — sound familiar?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is an infection caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox. It causes a similar (though usually less severe) illness and is most common in central and western Africa. It was first discovered in research monkeys more than half a century ago. Certain squirrels and rats found in Africa are among other animals that harbor this virus.

Currently, an outbreak is spreading fast outside of Africa. The virus has been reported in at least a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, Israel, and in Europe. As of this writing, Reuters reports more than 100 confirmed or suspected cases, making this the largest known outbreak outside of Africa. So far, no deaths have been reported.

Naturally, news about an unfamiliar virus spreading quickly internationally reminds us of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But monkeypox is not new — it was first discovered in 1958 — and several features make it likely to be far less dangerous.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The early symptoms of monkeypox are flulike and include

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • enlarged lymph nodes.

The rash that appears a few days later is unique. It often starts on the face and then appears on the palms, arms, legs, and other parts of the body. Some recent cases began with a rash on the genitals. Over a week or two, the rash changes from small, flat spots to tiny blisters (vesicles) similar to chickenpox, and then to larger, pus-filled blisters. These can take several weeks to scab over. Once that happens, the person is no longer contagious.

Although the disease is usually mild, complications can include pneumonia, vision loss due to eye infection, and sepsis, a life-threatening infection.