What is monkeypox and should you be worried?

With monkeypox being detected in countries from the US to Australia and France to the UK, we take a look at the situation and whether it is cause for concern.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral infection typically found in central and western Africa. Cases, usually small clusters or isolated infections, are sometimes diagnosed in other countries, including the UK where the first case was recorded in 2018 in an individual thought to have contracted the virus in Nigeria.

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There are two forms of monkeypox, a milder west African strain and a more severe central African, or Congo strain. The current international outbreak appears to involve the west African strain, although not all countries have released such information.

According to the UK Health Security Agency, early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and chills, as well as other features such as exhaustion.

“A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals,” the UKHSA says. “The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.”

Most patients recover from monkeypox in a few weeks.

How is it spread?

Monkeypox does not spread easily between humans, and requires close contact. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is thought that human-to-human transmission primarily occurs through large respiratory droplets.

“Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required,” the CDC says. “Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens.”

Where have recent cases been found?

Monkeypox cases have been confirmed in recent weeks in at least 12 countries where it is not endemic, including the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Israel and Australia.

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