By Brooklyn Neustaeter
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TORONTO (CTV Network) – Amid a growing concern about the spread of monkeypox infections, experts around the world are working to monitor the chains of transmission and try to stem the unusual outbreak.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than 550 monkeypox cases reported worldwide as of May 31, in countries including the UK, US, Spain, Portugal and Canada.
The disease is relatively rare and there are no clear links between some of the infections, raising concerns about community spread and undetected cases.
Speaking at a press briefing in June, the WHO’s chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the “Sudden appearance of monkeypox in many countries at the same time suggests there may have been undetected transmission for some time.”
Due to the Unexpected nature of the current Outbreak, there are still many unknowns about the disease, including exactly how it’s spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may Somehow be speeding its transmission.
CTVNews.ca asked experts some of our Readers; now commonly asked questions, to help separate facts from fiction when it comes to monkeypox. IF I HAD THE SMALLPOX VACCINE AS A KID, AM I PROTECTED AGAINST MONKEYPOX? WHAT ABOUT CHICKENPOX?
First discovered in 1958, monkeypox is a rare disease that comes from the orthopoxvirus genus of viruses that belongs to the same family as the one that causes smallpox.
Despite the similar-sounding name, Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, says chickenpox is a type of herpes virus not related to monkeypox.
“If you had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, you are not protected against monkeypox,” he told CTVNews.ca via email on May 31.
There is no proven treatment for the virus infection, but since they are related, the smallpox vaccine is known to also protect against monkeypox, with a greater than 85 per cent efficacy. But because the smallpox vaccine eradicated the disease, routine smallpox immunization for the general population ended in Canada in 1972.
Hoption Cann said this means that any Canadian who was vaccinated against smallpox was inoculated more than 50 years ago.
“It is likely that, after 50 or more years, that vaccination may not offer too much protection against this disease,” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said during a press briefing on May 27 that it is focusing on a “targeted approach to vaccination and treatment” for high-risk groups amid the current monkeypox outbreak, and does not believe in mass vaccination campaign is currently necessary. CAN I GET MONKEYPOX FROM SURFACES?
According to the WHO, monkeypox is transmitted through close contact with an infected animal, human or contaminated material. Transmission between people is thought to primarily occur through large respiratory droplets, which generally do not travel far and would require extended close contact.
The virus can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, as well as contact with infected material and surfaces. Transmission from an animal can happen through bees or scratches, contact with an animal’s blood or body fluids.
However, Hoption Cann noted monkeypox is “not an easily transmitted disease like COVID-19” and requires prolonged contact with an infected person or their material for transmission.
“If you were caring for an individual who had the illness, where the virus would be on their skin, clothing and bedding – in that situation it could be passed on by direct contact,” they said.
If cases were to become more widespread in Canada, Toronto-based emergency physician Dr. Kashif Pirzada told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on June 1 that health officials may have to re-emphasize surface cleaning to help mitigate public risk, similar to the approach at the outset of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The WHO has said it does not expect the hundreds of cases reported to date to turn into another Pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns about the disease, including the method of transmission. CAN DOMESTIC PETS GET THE VIRUS AND PASS IT ONTO HUMANS?
Monkeypox is endemic in animals in regions of West Africa, and while cases have popped up before in countries where it is not endemic, the cases typically involved people who recently traveled from a country in Africa or imported animals from that country.
The disease was first found in Colonies of Monkeys used for research, but has been shown to spread to a “variety of mammalian species,” according to Hoption Cann, primarily rodents, but also prairie dogs.
“Whether it can specifically Infect domestic pets is unknown, but no animal infections have been reported in the current outbreak,” they said. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MONKEYPOX?
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to those for the smallpox, but generally milder. The first signs are Fever, headache, muscle aches, backaches, chills, and exhaustion.
The incubation period – the span of time between initial infection and seeing symptoms – for monkeypox is generally 6-13 days, but can range as many as 21 days, according to PHAC.
The “pox” develops after the Onset of a Fever and usually occurs between one to three days later, sometimes longer. A rash usually begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, developing into distinct, raised bumps that then become filled with fluid or pus. DO THE LESIONS FROM MONKEYPOX LEAVE SCARS?
Hoption Cann noted it is possible scars can result from the lesions left by monkeypox, especially if they are picked at or have fluid inside them.
“The younger you are, the more likely your skin will heal without leaving a scar. For those with darker skin, the scabs may fall off leaving areas of hypopigmentation, ”they said.
However, Pirzada said the lesions may appear “very subtle” for some and warned to keep an eye out for even the smallest changes on one’s skin. They said the lesions could also be painful for some patients.
“It may not be all over the body, it may only be in a few spots here and there,” he said. HOW CAN PEOPLE PROTECT THEMSELVES?
Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, said during a press briefing on May 27 that Canadians should be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox, and seek medical attention especially if they have an unexplained rash.
They added that people can avoid infection by “maintaining physical distance from people outside their homes.”
“As well, wearing masks, covering coughs and sneezes, and practicing frequent handwashing continues to be important, especially in public spaces,” Njoo said.
While the overall risk of monkeypox to the general public is low, experts say it is important to remember that everyone is susceptible, despite most cases in Canada and others appearing to be spread through sexual contact between men.
With this in mind, Pirzada may be wise for people to limit their number of sexual partners until more is known about the Outbreak.
“If your city has a big outbreak of monkeypox… I would be very careful about sexual encounters” they said.
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