Stains, blisters, not very contagious: five questions about monkey pox

How do you get monkey pox?

In most cases, people get the disease after contact with an infected person or an animal that carries the virus. The virus can enter through the mucous membranes (for example, by kissing someone who carries the virus) and open wounds. The RIVM reports that the virus can also be transmitted through the fluid from the blisters or from the oral cavity and the WHO also warns against droplets from the respiratory tract.

The latter is especially a risk if someone is in close proximity to a monkeypox virus patient for a prolonged period of time. This puts health workers in particular at greater risk.

In many cases, including in the United Kingdom, recent infections have occurred among men who had sex with men, but health organizations emphasize that anyone can get the virus.

How contagious is monkey pox?

This is still under investigation in the current outbreak. According to the RIVM, the variant that has now been found in Europe is “usually not very contagious”.

Monkeypox was more common in Western countries, but until now those cases were almost always traceable to animals imported from Africa or humans were found to have contracted it in Africa. This is not the case in the new cases, but for the time being the alarm bells have not yet been sounded.

Virologist Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham put the risk of rapid spread into perspective at the BBC. The first case of the disease was diagnosed in England in 2018. “The fact that only one of the fifty contacts of the first monkeypox patient contracted the virus shows how little contagious the virus is.” According to him, it is wrong to think that we are on the cusp of a massive outbreak.

Is it deadly?

Not in most cases. According to the WHO, the number of people who die from the disease in outbreaks in Africa is between 3 and 6 percent. That number will probably be lower in western countries, virologist Van Ranst expects. “You assume that number is going to be much smaller in countries with Western medicine.”

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To treat the virus, the smallpox vaccine can be used in the first days after possible infection, the RIVM reports. This vaccine can also be used preventively. The smallpox vaccine is about 85 percent effective at preventing monkeypox, WHO says based on research.

The smallpox vaccine has not been administered in the Netherlands since 1974, but vaccines are still available, the RIVM reports. The institute has not yet made a decision on the use of that vaccine against monkeypox.



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