What is monkeypox? Symptoms, treatment and everything else you need to know

·3 min read
Cebus monkey in Costa Rica
Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 in primates kept for research. (Stock, Getty Images)

Two cases of monkeypox have been identified in north Wales.

Public Health Wales has confirmed the initial case was picked up abroad. Upon the patient's return home, the virus was passed to a member of their household.

Both cases were admitted to a hospital in England, where one patient remains.

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Officials are tracing the cases' contacts, but have stressed monkeypox is a "rare event" in the UK and of "very low" risk to the public.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus of the same name.

It was discovered in 1958 when a pox-like disease affected monkeys kept for research.

The first human case was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, with outbreaks now repeatedly occurring in the country.

Cases also regularly arise in several central and western African nations, generally in regions close to tropical rainforests.

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Prior to the Wales cases, the last UK incidence was reported in England on 3 December 2019. The virus was first imported into the UK in 2018. British travellers were also diagnosed in Israel in 2018 and Singapore in 2019.

Overall, the risk of catching monkeypox in the UK is "very low". 

Boy with rosy red cheeks- diathesis or allergy symptoms. Redness and peeling of the skin on the face.
Monkeypox often causes a rash on the face, which then spreads to other parts of the body. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

What are monkeypox's symptoms?

The illness tends to be mild, with no treatment being required.

Between five and 21 days after catching the infection, most develop a fever, headache and fatigue. Muscle aches, back discomfort, chills and swollen lymph nodes are also common.

One to five days after the initial symptoms, a rash often appears, starting as spots on the face before spreading elsewhere on the body.

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Over time, the rash changes from raised red lumps to fluid-filled spots, which eventually scab.

If a more severe case arises, medics at specialist hospitals work to relieve the patient's symptoms while their immune system fights off the virus naturally.

Monkeypox has no specific treatment or vaccine.

Is monkeypox serious?

Monkeypox tends to be "self limiting", with most recovering within two to four weeks.

Among severe cases, the death rate has varied from 0% to 11%.

The virus can be more serious in children and people with an underlying medical condition.

In rare cases, survivors may endure sepsis, inflammation of the lungs or brain, or infections of the cornea "with ensuing loss of vision". 

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox does not spread easily between people. Nevertheless, it can be transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, with the virus entering the body via the airways.

Monkeypox can also enter through broken skin, or a person's eyes, nose or mouth.

Touching a patient's spots or scabs, or sharing their bedding or towels, is another risk.

Coming into close contact with animals that act as "reservoirs" for the virus, like rodents and primates, may also lead to an infection. 

Infected patients should be "isolated" from others while they fight off the virus.

While caring for a patient, good hand hygiene and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, also help to ward off the infection.

Monkeypox can be difficult to diagnose, with its symptoms often being confused for chickenpox. The virus is usually confirmed via specific testing in a specialist laboratory.

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