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Will the monkeypox outbreak turn into another pandemic? Here's all you need to know

According to the WHO, monkeypox typically manifests in humans with fever, rashes, and swollen lymph nodes and may lead to medical complications.

With the monkeypox outbreak being reported in several countries worldwide, there is rising concern among Indians that it could be the beginning of yet another pandemic.

Although no cases have been reported in India so far, the Centre is bracing to fight the virus if it makes its way into the country.

The Union government has directed the airport and port health officers to be vigilant and thoroughly screen international passengers who arrive in India.

"They have been instructed to isolate any sick passenger with a travel history to monkeypox-affected countries and send the samples to the BSL4 facility of the National Institute of Virology in Pune for an investigation," an official source said.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms. According to the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), it is a zoonotic viral disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions, according to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). 

The incubation period is from about five days to three weeks. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without being hospitalized.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The disease is called monkeypox because it was first identified in colonies of monkeys and kept for research in 1958. It was only later detected in humans in 1970.

Is monkeypox similar to chickenpox/smallpox? 

"Monkeypox is similar to chickenpox or smallpox. But it is milder than smallpox. Rashes can be confused with chickenpox/smallpox/secondary syphilis," said Dr. Saranya CK, Senior Resident, Department of Microbiology, Government Medical College, Konni. 

Will those who have already contracted chickenpox/smallpox have immunity against this virus?

"There is no immunity against monkeypox in those who have already suffered from chickenpox. But those who took the smallpox vaccination have protection against monkeypox infection. Vaccinations against smallpox were protective, but due to the cessation of smallpox vaccination after eradicating the disease, people may be more susceptible to contracting monkeypox infection," Dr. Saranya said.  

What are the symptoms?

According to the WHO, monkeypox typically manifests in humans with fever, rashes, and swollen lymph nodes and may lead to medical complications.

Who is at higher risk? 

"Monkeypox is a self-limiting disease with mild symptoms which lasts for 2-4 weeks, but it can cause severe illness in children, pregnant women, and immune-suppressed patients due to other health conditions," says Dr. Saranya.

"Higher-risk individuals have close contact with infected persons or animals or with materials contaminated with the virus. Health workers and household members are at a greater risk of infection," she added.

Can people die from monkeypox?

In most cases, the symptoms of monkeypox go away on their own within a few weeks, but in some individuals, they can lead to medical complications and even death.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox can be transmitted from animals to humans and humans to humans. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). 

animal-to-human transmission may occur by bite, scratch, or direct contact with body fluids. It can also occur when a person comes into contact with materials contaminated with the virus.

Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through large respiratory droplets generally requiring prolonged close contact.

It can also be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids or lesion material and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing of an infected person.

Is it true that monkeypox spreads widely among gay couples?

"In the recent outbreak, it was reported that cases include people who self-identified as men who have sex with men. The virus enters the body through broken skin, direct contact with the lesions, respiratory droplets, mucous membranes, and sexual contact irrespective of gender or orientation. Also, through indirect contact with the clothing, or sharing a bed with the infected person," said Dr. Saranya.

How is it treated?

People exposed to the virus are often given one of several smallpox vaccines effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed, says the WHO.

Are we heading towards another pandemic?

"It does not spread as easily as SARS Cov-2, but it causes outbreaks in some countries. It can be an epidemic in those countries. It has less chance of turning into a pandemic," said Dr. Saranya.

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