Image of a man cartoon with blisters on the body.

By Doc Willie Ong

In the past, monkeypox is often reported in Central and West African tropical rainforests, where the virus can be spread by animals. It is a contagious, zoonotic condition that can be transmitted from animals to people. It looks like smallpox but is not as deadly. Smallpox killed about 30% of people and can only be passed from person to person, whereas monkey-pox kills about 7 to 10% of people and can be spread from humans to animals and recently human to human.

How is it transmitted?

Transmission of the virus occurs when an infected animal, usually a rodent such as a rat, bites and scratches other animals or humans, or when their meat is eaten. Human to human transmission occurs when infected respiratory tract secretions or skin sores are in close contact with other persons.

What are the symptoms?

The skin lesions resemble chicken pox, although it begins in the affected person’s face in around 95% of instances, and it can also affect the palms of the hands and soles of the feet in about 75% of cases. There is also prominent swelling of the lymph nodes, which do not usually occur in other diseases. Most people infected with the virus typically recover within a few weeks. Between exposure to monkeypox and the onset of symptoms, it might take anywhere from 5 to 21 days.

Monkey-pox symptoms are divided into two phases: (1) invasion and (2) skin eruption.

The invasion phase lasts 0-5 days and is characterized by the following:

  1. Fever
  2. Severe headaches
  3. Lymphatic gland swelling
  4. Back pain, muscular aching (myalgia)
  5. Severe lack of energy

The rash can progress from flat-base lesions to small fluid-filled blisters and pustules over the course of 10 days to 3 weeks. The volume of lesions varies from a few to hundreds with 70% of cases affecting oral mucous membranes, 30% affecting genitalia, which is why it is also believed to be a sexually transmitted condition. Around 20% involves the conjunctiva (eyelid) and cornea (eyeball) that may lead to corneal scarring and loss of vision.

The potential complications from having monkey-pox include:

  1. Bronchopneumonia
  2. Sepsis
  3. Inflammation of brain tissue, also known as encephalitis.
  4. Infection of the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye
  5. Secondary infections

An infection in the cornea may lead to vision loss. Moreover, in severe cases the lesions might form together and cause the skin to fall off in large pieces.

Who is at risk of getting monkey-pox?

Those at high risk of catching the disease are those people with close physical contact with someone who has monkey-pox.

Children, health workers and people who are immune-compromised are at risk of getting monkeypox.

How can we protect ourselves?

  1. Avoid getting into contact with sick, wild or dead animals. Eat only well-cooked animal meat-containing foods.
  2. Stay away and observe precautions when dealing with monkey-pox patients.
  3. Consult your infectious disease doctor for the latest treatment and vaccines if available.
  4. For the majority of patients, supportive treatments for the symptoms are enough for the body to recover. Most cases are self-limiting which means you will get better even without specific treatment.

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