Monkeypox is not like COVID-19 – and that’s a good thing

Monkeypox is not like COVID-19 - and that's a good thing
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The director of the Spallanzani Infectious Diseases Hospital, Francesco Vaia, speaks to reporters at the end of a press conference in Rome on Friday.

Andrew Medichini/AP

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Andrew Medichini/AP

The director of the Spallanzani Infectious Diseases Hospital, Francesco Vaia, speaks to reporters at the end of a press conference in Rome on Friday.

Andrew Medichini/AP

Recent headlines about the sudden emergence of an unusual disease, spreading case by case across countries and continents may, for some, conjure up memories of early 2020.

But monkeypox is not COVID-19 – in a good way.

Health officials around the world have turned their attention to a new outbreak of monkeypoxa virus normally found in West and Central Africa that has emerged across Europe and the United States in recent weeks, even in people who have not traveled to Africa at all.

But experts say that while it’s important for public health officials to be on the lookout for monkeypox, the virus is extremely unlikely to turn into an unchecked global pandemic in the same way that COVID-19 has. .

“Let’s just say up front that monkeypox and COVID are not the same disease,” Dr Rosamund Lewis, head of the smallpox secretariat at the World Health Organization, told an open session. Q&A Monday.

For starters, monkeypox spreads far less easily than COVID-19. Scientists have been studying monkeypox since its discovery in humans more than 50 years ago. And its similarities to smallpox mean it can be fought in many ways.

As a result, scientists already know how monkeypox spreads, how it presents, and how to treat and contain it, giving health authorities a much bigger head start in containing it.

Here are some of the other ways the public health approach to monkeypox differs from COVID-19:

Scientists already know how it spreads, and it’s different from COVID

Monkeypox generally requires very close contact to spread – most commonly skin-to-skin contact or prolonged physical contact with clothing or bedding used by an infected person.

In contrast, COVID-19 spreads quickly and easily. The coronavirus can be spread simply by talking with another person, or by sharing a room, or in rare cases, by being in a room that an infected person has been in before.

“Transmission really happens through close physical contact, skin-to-skin contact. It’s quite different from COVID in that sense,” said WHO infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove.

The classic symptom of monkeypox is a rash that often starts on the face and then spreads to a person’s limbs or other parts of the body.

“The incubation from the time of exposure to the onset of lesions ranges from five days to around 21 days, and therefore can be quite long,” said Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease physician and virologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

The current outbreak has had different patterns, experts say – in particular, that the rash first starts in the genital area and may not spread through the body.

Either way, experts say, it’s usually through physical contact of this rash that the virus is spread.

“It’s not a situation where if you run into someone at the grocery store they’re at risk of getting monkeypox,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a Monday briefing.

Those most likely to be at risk are close personal contacts of an infected person, such as household members or health care workers who may have treated them, she said.

“We have seen over the years that often the best way to deal with cases is to keep those who are sick isolated so they cannot spread the virus to close family members and loved ones, and to track proactively whoever a patient comes into contact with so they can monitor symptoms,” McQuiston said.

With this version of the virus, people typically recover in two to four weeks, scientists say, and the death rate is less than 1%.

Monkeypox is less contagious than COVID-19

One of the factors that has contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world is the fact that it is highly contagious. This is even more true for the variants that emerged last year.

Epidemiologists indicate the R0 value of a disease – the average number of people you expect an infected person to transmit the disease to.

For a disease outbreak to develop, the R0 must be greater than 1. For the original version of COVID-19, the number was somewhere between 2 and 3. For the omicron variant, this number is around 8, a recent study found.

Although the recent spread of monkeypox cases is alarming, the virus is far less contagious than COVID-19, according to Jo Walker, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.

“Most estimates of previous outbreaks have had an R0 of less than one. With that, you can have clusters of cases, even outbreaks, but they will eventually die out on their own,” they said. “It could spread between humans, but not very efficiently in a way that could sustain itself without constantly being reintroduced from animal populations.”

This is one of the main reasons public health authorities, including the WHO, express confidence that monkeypox cases will not suddenly skyrocket. “This is a manageable situation,” Van Kerkhove said Monday during the open session.

Since monkeypox is closely linked to smallpox, there are already vaccines

Both monkeypox and smallpox are part of the Orthopox family of viruses. Smallpoxwhich once killed millions every year, was eradicated in 1980 by a successful global vaccine campaign.

The smallpox vaccine is about 85% effective against monkeypox, according to the WHO, although this effectiveness decreases over time.

“These viruses are closely related to each other, and we are now benefiting from all these years of research, diagnostics and treatments and vaccines that will now be put to good use,” said the WHO’s Lewis.

Some countries, including the United States, have kept smallpox vaccines in strategic reserve in case the virus reappears. Now these can be used to contain an outbreak of monkeypox.

The FDA has two vaccines already approved for use against smallpox.

A, a two-dose vaccine called Jynneos, is also approved for use against monkeypox. About a thousand doses are available in the National Strategic Reservesays the CDC, and the company will provide more in the coming months.

“We have already worked to ensure an adequate supply of effective treatments and vaccines to prevent those exposed from contracting monkeypox and to treat those who have been affected,” said Dr Raj Panjabi of the House’s pandemic office. White, in an interview with NPR.

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