Monkey pox: How to protect yourself from the virus and what to do if you have symptoms

The number of confirmed cases of monkeypox, a smallpox-related virus usually confined to Africa, is rising, particularly in Europe and North America, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency on July 23. start

The virus, which is less deadly than smallpox, usually lasts two to four weeks, and symptoms can appear five to 21 days after infection.

Although medical experts around the world emphasize that the risk to the general population is low, it is important to know how monkeypox is spread and what to do to protect yourself from infection.

How is monkeypox spread?

As a rule, monkeypox is transmitted to people who come into contact with infected animals. This can happen after being bitten, scratched, or after eating undercooked animal meat.

Monkey pox can also be transmitted from person to person. Although it was initially thought to be rare, a recent and unusually rapid increase in infections outside west and central Africa has raised concern.

It is usually spread among people in three ways: inhalation through respiratory droplets; direct contact with a sick person; and, to a lesser extent, through indirect contact—for example, clothing or linen that comes into contact with wound fluid.

Respiratory transmission involves large droplets that do not remain airborne or travel far. As a result, person-to-person transmission usually requires close personal contact, such as skin-to-skin contact or kissing.

The virus is not generally considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is not known to be transmitted through semen during intercourse.

However, according to the WHO, monkeypox is currently spread mostly through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which occurs during sex.

This means that while condoms protect against most STDs, they are not enough to prevent the transmission of monkeypox.

“Sexual transmission through close contact is the main route of transmission, but cases are identified through episodes of infection in families, and sometimes there is no history of illness at all,” WHO regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said on Tuesday (July 26). ) ).

Until now, most cases were sexually transmitted, with a particular concentration among men who have sex with men. However, anyone can be at risk of contracting the virus.

WHO’s “provisional recommendations”

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has declared monkeypox an international emergency and has given temporary recommendations to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

These include “facilitating the reduction of the number of sexual partners where appropriate” and special measures for “domestic sexual activities”.

It also called for cooperation with organizers of events that may be “for intimate sexual encounters”, encouraging personal safety and protection, and postponing events where organizers cannot take protective measures.

The World Health Organization also called on the world to “come together in solidarity” to distribute treatment, tests and vaccines.

How can you protect yourself from monkey pox?

One of the best ways to protect against monkeypox is vaccination.

Unlike the COVID-19 vaccine, there is currently only one company producing an approved monkey vaccine, so supplies are somewhat limited.

Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic produces the Imvanex vaccine and on Monday (25 July) the European Commission approved its sale as protection against the virus. This follows a recommendation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) a week ago.

Imvanex was previously only approved for the treatment of smallpox in the EU, but the company has supplied the vaccine to several EU countries for “unspecified” use in the current monkeypox outbreak.

The approval is valid in all EU member states, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, Bavarian Nordic said in a statement.

In addition to vaccination, there are a number of other measures people can take to reduce their risk of contracting monkeypox.

“Consider limiting your sexual partners and relationships for now. It may be a harsh message, but being careful will protect you and your community,” Kluge said this week.

According to the UK National Health Service and the US Centers for Disease Control, the best precautions are to:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Talk to sexual partners about their sexual health and any symptoms they may be experiencing.
  • If you are sexually active, especially with new sexual partners, be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick and have monkeypox.
  • Do not share beds or towels with people who are sick or have rabies.
  • If you have symptoms of monkeypox, take a break from sex and intimate contact until you see your doctor and are told that you are not at risk of contracting it.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients with confirmed or infected monkeypox virus.
  • Avoid approaching wild or stray animals, including dead animals and animals that appear unwell.
  • Do not eat or touch wild animal meat.

What to do if you catch monkeypox?

If you suspect you have monkeypox, get tested at a health care facility or sexual health clinic that can perform a PCR test.

Early symptoms of monkeypox may include headache, muscle aches, swelling, back pain, and fever.

Within one to five days of infection, sores and rashes usually appear on the body – hands, face, feet, eyes, mouth and genitals. Eventually, these develop into bumps that form blisters, some of which break and fill with a white fluid before peeling off. This fluid can be contagious.

If you have these symptoms or suspect you may have the virus, isolate yourself from physical contact with others and see your doctor immediately.

If you have the virus, you will need to self-isolate until you recover.

People who contract monkeypox usually recover within two to four weeks. Symptoms can be confused with other diseases – such as herpes, syphilis or chicken pox – so it’s important to confirm with a medical professional as soon as possible.

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