And now for the next virus: monkeypox

Is this the new Covid? As monkeypox emerges around the world, scientists say it is different from Covid and less deadly. But they are puzzled about why it is spreading so fast. The WHO official stared at the figures anxiously. There was nothing new about monkeypox – it had been endemic in some African countries for years. But now reports of it were coming in from parts of the world where it was not usually found: 10 European countries, plus the US and Canada.  Monkeypox is a virus first discovered in monkeys. The symptoms include headaches, fever, back pain, swellings and aching muscles. These can be followed by a very itchy rash, which usually starts on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body. The disease usually lasts between 14 and 21 days, and clears up on its own. It does not spread easily, but can be transmitted by close physical contact. There was a rare outbreak in the US in 2003, when rodents brought in from Ghana gave the virus to prairie dogs. These were sold as pets and infected 47 people. The disease is usually found in remote parts of Central and West Africa. The first case in the new outbreak was identified in the UK on 7 May. By yesterday, a further 19 had been found. In other European countries and North America, there were 72 more cases. Some experts think there might have been a “superspreader” event in Africa, from which people took the virus home. Vaccinations against smallpox, which is closely related to monkeypox, protected humans in the past. But since smallpox was eradicated, those vaccinations have stopped. Luckily the world still has large supplies of the smallpox vaccine, partly because the US feared that bioterrorists might reintroduce the disease. The vaccine is 85% effective against monkeypox. Some outbreaks of monkeypox have killed around 1% of those infected. But they have never taken place in communities with proper health care, so experts say people should not panic. Is this the new Covid? Pox shocks Yes: It is a dangerous disease which jumped from animals to humans and is spreading in a way we do not understand. Unless strict measures are taken quickly, it could get completely out of control.  No: Unlike Covid, we already know a lot about monkeypox. We have plenty of vaccines and a possible hospital treatment. It is not very infectious, and most cases are very mild. Or... Even if it does not cause a pandemic, it reminds us that another one could be around the corner. We need to act on what we learnt from our experience of Covid and make sure we are prepared. KeywordsWHO - Short for the World Health Organisation.

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