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Monkeypox: What Is This Latest Infectious Disease?

Monkeypox: What Is This Latest Infectious Disease?

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease caused by a pox virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae; vaccinia, cowpox, and variola (smallpox) viruses share the same genus. It was first reported in laboratory monkeys in 1958, when there were 2 outbreaks of pox-like disease in the colonies of monkeys kept for research. It was not until 12 years later that the first known human case occurred: In 1970, during efforts to eradicate smallpox, the first human case of monkeypox was recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since that time, human cases have been reported globally—a large amount are recorded in other countries in western and central Africa, though most cases remain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other cases of monkeypox in people around the world have been linked to international travel or importation of infected animals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been tracking multiple cases of monkeypox in countries that typically do not report this infection, including the United States. They are posting daily updates; as of June 28, 2022, 4749 confirmed cases have been reported in 49 countries, with 305 cases in the United States. A breakdown of cases in the US by state can be found here.

The disease is transmitted through direct contact with an infected animal, person, or fomite. A bite or scratch from infected animals can spread the virus, as can handling or consuming infected game or products derived from infected animals. African rodents are suspected to play a role in transmission to people and the CDC is investigating the natural environmental reservoirs of the virus.

Person-to-person transmission of monkeypox virus can occur from direct contact with bodily fluids, sores, scabs, and fomites. It can also be transmitted by respiratory secretions from prolonged, close, face-to-face contact—this includes transmission during intimate and sexual activity, which may occur from respiratory secretion or direct contact with infected sores, scabs, and bodily fluids. The CDC is currently studying whether monkeypox virus may be spread through vaginal fluids and semen. Vertical transmission can also occur when the virus crosses the placenta from mother to fetus.

Knowledge of monkeypox transmission during this early stage of the current outbreak will arm healthcare providers with information to educate patients about potential transmission and hopefully prevent larger outbreaks.


Filed under: Infectious Diseases, Public Health

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