Monkeypox is a viral infection that is most common in western and central Africa. However, there have been outbreaks in North America, Europe and Australia. These outbreaks are mainly attributed to international travel and the exotic pet industry. But what causes monkeypox and what are the options for monkeypox treatment? Let’s find out!
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare zoonotic virus, meaning it passes from animals to humans. People can catch monkeypox by coming into contact with infected animals, or their meat, skin or fur. It can also spread from person to person.
The virus was first observed in 1958 when there was an outbreak among laboratory monkeys in Denmark, hence the name. However, other animals can also carry monkeypox, including rats, mice and squirrels.
The first recorded human case occurred in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the areas where monkeypox is most widespread.
The virus shares some similarities with smallpox, although it is less severe. Both are members of the orthopoxvirus genus.
There are two varieties of monkeypox, known as clades. The Congo Basin clade is more serious than the West African clade and more likely to result in complications. Most outbreaks in economically developed countries are due to the West African clade.
Monkeypox has an incubation period of 5 to 21 days (usually 6 to 13 days), meaning people do not display symptoms immediately after being infected. When they do occur, the symptoms of monkeypox include:
- Muscle aches.
- Back ache.
- Swollen lymph glands.
After one to five days, an itchy rash develops, usually starting on the face before spreading to other body parts. The rash begins as raised spots on the skin, which then fill with fluid before scabbing over and falling off. This rash usually resolves within a few weeks but can leave permanent scars or skin discoloration.
What Causes Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is spread to humans from infected animals. People can catch it by touching the animals themselves or products made from their skin or fur. It can also be contracted by eating meat from an infected animal that hasn’t been cooked properly.
The virus can then be transmitted between humans via skin-to-skin contact, sharing clothing, bedding or towels, and coughs and sneezes.
Recent cases have primarily affected men who have sex with men. However, although the virus can be spread by sexual intercourse, it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. Anyone who comes into close contact with somebody with monkeypox may become infected.
Monkeypox Treatment Options
There is no specific treatment for monkeypox and most people recover within a few weeks of infection. However, people with compromised immune systems risk developing complications, such as bacterial skin infections, pneumonia, or sepsis. Therefore, such individuals may be hospitalized while they recover.
Fortunately, there are a few options that can help people manage their symptoms and reduce the risk of complications in vulnerable people.
1. Over-the-Counter Medicine
People can use over-the-counter remedies to manage their symptoms while they recover from monkeypox. For example, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce high fevers and relieve aches and pains. People can also take antihistamines or apply topical products, like calamine lotion, to relieve itching from the rash.
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2. Antiviral Drugs
Some antiviral drugs designed to treat other viruses are also effective against monkeypox. Several of these medicines have been granted Expanded Access Investigational New Drug Protocol (EA-IND) status, meaning they can be used to treat monkeypox in case of an outbreak.
One example is tecovirimat (TPOXX). It is effective against all orthopoxvirus infections, including monkeypox. It is available in capsule form and licensed to treat viral complications in adults and children weighing over 6 pounds.
Another antiviral drug with EA-IND status is cidofovir (Vistide). Its primary use is treating cytomegalovirus retinitis in patients with AIDS. However, it may also be useful for patients with monkeypox. This medicine is administered via intravenous injection.
Brincidofovir (Tembexa) is an antiviral treatment licensed to treat smallpox infections. It may be effective against monkeypox but, at the time of writing, has not yet received EA-IND approval.
People at high risk of developing monkeypox complications might be offered a vaccine. The most common option is a smallpox vaccine known as the modified vaccinia Ankara vaccine (Jynneos). It is licensed for people over 18 who are considered to be at high risk of infection. The vaccine consists of two shots, administered four weeks apart.
4. Natural Remedies
There is not much evidence that natural remedies can help with monkeypox. However, one study conducted by Kansas State University suggests a compound called resveratrol may be effective. The chemical occurs naturally in several foods, including grapes, blueberries, cocoa, beans and peanuts. However, the concentrations used in the study were far higher than those found in any food. More research is required, but these initial results are exciting nonetheless.
Prevention is better than cure, and people can reduce their risk of catching or spreading monkeypox in several ways:
- Wash your hands regularly using soap and water or use alcohol hand gel if necessary.
- Wear a facemask in crowded public spaces.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw it away.
- Do not touch wild or stray animals, alive or dead.
- Cook meat well before eating it.
- Do not share bedding or towels with an unwell person or animal.
- Avoid close contact with unwell people or animals.
- Practice safe sex.
- If symptoms occur, self-isolate and get a diagnosis as soon as possible.