Monkeypox is not the type of thing that you typically use as an excuse to get out of work or a date unless you want someone to notify the public health authorities. After all, monkeypox is a very rare viral infection that can spread from person-to-person via close contact and could result in severe illness, even death. That’s why someone being diagnosed with monkeypox in England has prompted the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to issue an announcement on Saturday.
The infected person is under isolation and receiving treatment at the expert infectious disease unit at the Guy’s and St Thomas’ National Health Services (NHS) Foundation Trust in London, England. The UKHSA is also working with the NHS to identify anyone who has been in close contact with the infected patient. This includes people who were on the airplane with the person when that individual returned to the U.K. from Nigeria recently. Most likely, the person caught the monkeypox virus in Nigeria since cases are quite rare outside the continent of Africa, as I reported last November for Forbes.
Again, monkeypox is not something like Bieber fever. You shouldn’t just quietly suffer through it while playing the song “Stuck with U” on loop. Instead, contact your doctor as soon as possible if you may have come into close contact with anyone infected with the virus. Your doctor, in turn, should notify public health authorities.
The “monkey” in monkeypox has nothing to do with the disease’s symptoms. It won’t turn you into a monkey. If you find yourself slowly transforming into a monkey, something else is going on with you. The term “monkey” comes from the virus first being found in monkeys back in 1958. It may be a bit outdated like “groovy”, “mobile phone”, and “Come on, snake, let’s rattle.” Monkeys may not even be the main reservoir for the virus. It’s not clear which animals may be although rodents are suspected.
In fact, the “pox” in monkeypox is more relevant to the symptoms of monkeypox, since they can be rather similar to those of smallpox, although typically not as severe. They can appear anywhere from five to 21 days after you get infected with the virus. Initial symptoms may include fever, headaches, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes, otherwise known as lymphadenopathy, as listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If your first thought is, “do I have smallpox” every time your have a fever, you can always check you lymph nodes because smallpox typically doesn’t cause your lymph nodes to swell.
Once you develop a fever, a rash tends to appear one to three days later, most often on your face first before progressing to other parts of your body. These lesions will progress through the macule (flat lesions), papule (raised lesions), vesicle (fluid-filled lesions), pustules (pus filled lesions), and scab (scabby lesions) stages before eventually falling off your body. Usually, you’ll remain ill for two to four weeks, assuming that you survive the infection. Data from African countries have shown that death rates can be as high as one in 10 people who get monkeypox.
That being said, before you start hoarding toilet paper again, keep in mind that monkeypox is highly, highly unlikely to cause a pandemic or even a widespread epidemic. It’s certainly not as contagious as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or the flu. You really need close contact for it to be transmitted. The UKHSA announcement included the following quote from Colin Brown, M.B., Ch.B., MSc., the UKHSA’s Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections, UKHSA: “It is important to emphasise that monkeypox does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low.” The announcement also indicated that monkeypox “is usually a mild self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals.”
For now the key is to contain the spread of the virus by identifying any possible close contacts and isolating them until doctors can make sure that they are not infected. While the risk of further spread is low, public health officials don’t want to monkeypox around.