Monkeypox 2022: What you need to know about the virus

Where did it come from? How far has it spread? Is this the next pandemic? Here's what you need to know.

 A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus (photo credit: CDC HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus

The monkeypox virus has been cropping up throughout Western Europe and beyond in recent weeks, and as cases rise, so too do the questions surrounding this disease.

Where did it come from? How far has it spread? Can we treat it? Here is everything you need to know.

What is monkeypox? 

Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus, itself a zoonotic disease that can infect certain animals, such as people. 

Electron micrograph of monkeypox virus (credit: NO AUTHOR SPECIFIED/PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Electron micrograph of monkeypox virus (credit: NO AUTHOR SPECIFIED/PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The disease itself is nothing new. It was first identified in monkeys in the 1950s and the first human case was confirmed in 1970. However, cases have been cropping up now.

How do you get monkeypox?

The disease can be contracted in a number of ways but is typically spread when the virus is able to get inside the body through either inhalation, openings in the eyes, nose, or mouth, or just through broken skin. 

It is for this reason that many people who are close to certain kinds of animals have to be careful. 

In terms of humans, the virus is believed to typically be spread through inhaling large respiratory droplets. As such, human-to-human transmission has actually been rather limited.

In terms of animals, one might think that monkeys are the biggest danger of spreading monkeypox. However, despite the name monkeypox, monkeys are actually not the main reservoir of the disease. 

The virus can also be found in a number of animals, specifically African rodents. And many experts believe that it is these African rodents that are the primary reservoir.

For example, the first outbreak of monkeypox in the US was in 2003, which saw over 70 people infected. That outbreak was linked to a shipment of rodents from Ghana into the US, some of which were infected with monkeypox. Those animals infected prairie dogs, which were sold as pets before signs of infection began to manifest, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why is everyone only getting monkeypox now?

They aren't. Rather, people have been getting it for a while, just not in Europe, the US or Israel.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), monkeypox is typically found in Central Africa and West Africa, usually near rainforests.

Interestingly, there are actually two distinct genetic clades of the virus, the Congo clade and the West African clade. The former is considered more dangerous but to this day, the only country where both clades are known to exist is in Cameroon.

But though the virus is typically limited to Africa, it has been seen abroad numerous times. Even in Israel, when travelers from Nigeria in September 2018 brought the disease with them, according to the WHO.

Cases have been rising for some time now, and a major reason for this is vaccination.

Is there a monkeypox vaccine?

Technically, yes. There is no vaccine dedicated specifically for monkeypox. Rather, the best preventative measure for monkeypox is the smallpox vaccine.

What is smallpox?

Smallpox is one of the most infamous diseases in history. It goes back to prehistoric times and has ravaged humanity for thousands of years, shaping the course of history and causing untold amounts of death until it was declared fully eradicated in 1980.

The disease also helped spur the development of vaccinations and helped change the course of medicine for the better. 

Due to the similarities between the two diseases, the smallpox vaccine is usually used to vaccinate against monkeypox. In fact, one vaccine, Jynneos (also known as Imvamune or Imvanex) has been licensed in the US for preventing monkeypox and smallpox and is thought to be 85% effective, according to the CDC.

However, this is where the problem is. 

Ever since smallpox was officially declared eradicated, vaccinations against smallpox have stopped. As a result, monkeypox cases have been rising, and with the general public not having ready access to smallpox vaccines, that could get worse.

Why is there a monkeypox 2022 outbreak?

It seems to have first emerged in the UK after a British resident returned from a trip to Nigeria. After that, it began to spread further. Now it has been seen in countries all over the world, but most of them being in Western Europe. 

But how did it spread?

Monkeypox gay disease?

Definitely not, though this is despite the UK Health Security Agency's (UKHSA) Dr. Susan Hopkins saying that a significant amount of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been gay and bisexual men, the BBC reported.

But while there is no doubt that this disease does not exclusively target the LGBTQ+ community, this does raise a question: Is it spreading differently? 

One theory is that monkeypox may have become a sexually transmitted infection (STI) since it has been spreading between sexual partners and it is possible that sexual intercourse is a means of transmitting the disease. This is all unconfirmed, however, and most experts disagree. 

But exactly why it is spreading more now is a matter of debate that researchers are investigating.

Is monkeypox deadly? What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

It can be, but it is usually mild.

Despite being related to the incredibly deadly smallpox, monkeypox tends to essentially manifest as a milder version. 

As is the case with smallpox, monkeypox produces similar skin lesions as well as rashes and blisters. Also experienced are flu-like symptoms. 

The flu-like symptoms tend to come first, which sees fatigue, back pain, muscle aches, fevers, severe headaches and swelling of the lymph nodes — something the WHO notes is a distinctive feature of monkeypox.

This initial period, the invasion period, lasts briefly, and the skin eruptions manifest within 1-3 days after the fever does. 

These skin eruptions are usually focused on the face most of all, but they can also be present on the palms of hands, soles of feet, eyes and genitals. 

What is the monkeypox death rate?

In worst cases, if treatment isn't done quickly, monkeypox can have a 10% fatality rate.

However, the type of monkeypox in this current outbreak is the West African clade, which is far milder. In fact, the fatality rate is likely under 1%, though those with preexisting conditions and who are immunocompromised may be at higher risk. Also at higher risk are children, who are more likely to have severe cases and with a higher fatality rate.

Is there a monkeypox treatment?

For the specific disease, no. Rather, treating monkeypox relies on treating the symptoms. 

How long does monkeypox last?

Symptoms usually last around 2-4 weeks.