By Dr Tarun Sahni
How big is the monkeypox scare?
Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It is a viral zoonotic disease which can spread from animals to humans. It is commonly found in central and west Africa where there are tropical rainforests and where animals that may carry the virus typically live. Additionally, monkeypox has been identified in non-endemic countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, and France. While the Indian government is keeping an eye on the global rise in monkeypox cases, India may have its first suspected case of monkeypox in Uttar Pradesh. While the samples have been sent for testing, the Indian government has levelled up its preparedness to tackle the virus with an adequate number of biosafety level (BSL) facilities.
How can people protect themselves?
While health experts agree on the risks that the risk of monkeypox is low, there are several precautions that will help reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Avoid contact with animals that could harbour the virus (including animals that are sick or that have been found dead in areas where monkeypox occurs)
Avoid contact with any materials, such as bedding, that have been in contact with a sick animal
Isolate infected patients from others who could be at risk for infection
Practise good hand hygiene after contact with infected animals or humans. For example, washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients.
While India’s ministry of health and family welfare and ICMR will soon issue comprehensive guidelines for the treatment and prevention of monkeypox, it is important to follow the precautions mentioned above and also amid the Covid pandemic.
Are there any existing vaccines that are effective against the disease?
Monkeypox can be detected with the help of PCR testing as these viruses can create antigens and trigger antibodies that are similar to other related viruses. ACAM200 and JYNNEOSTM (also known as Imvamune or Imvanex) are the two currently licensed vaccines in the United States to prevent smallpox. Currently, there is no vaccination for monkeypox in India. However, there is an organisation named Bavarian Nordic, which makes the smallpox vaccine.
Who all are susceptible to the disease?
With the monkeypox outbreak being reported in several countries across the world, there is rising concern among Indians that it could be the beginning of yet another pandemic. While India may have its first suspected case of monkeypox in Uttar Pradesh, the Centre is bracing to fight the virus in case it makes its way into the country.
Monkeypox can be transmitted from animals to humans as well as humans to humans. The virus enters the body through the skin, respiratory tract, or mucous membranes. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing of an infected person.
Additionally, past experience with Covid has made us realise that people travelling overseas or coming back from intercountry travel are more susceptible to the disease. Hence, it is important to take timely action and report in case there is any visibility of any symptoms.
Is the disease likely to spread more in the heat?
Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus. It can spread from person to person as well. Person-to-person spread (transmission) occurs when one comes in contact with virus particles from another person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus can be transmitted through airborne droplets. It requires prolonged face-to-face contact, but one can then breathe in these tiny droplets from someone else (respiratory droplets), or get them in your eyes or nose.
People can also get it directly from touching the lesions on an infected person. There is no proof that it is likely to spread more in the heat. However, it can also spread by coming into direct or indirect contact with materials contaminated with the virus. These materials can include clothing, bedding and other linens used by an infected person or animal.
(Dr Tarun Sahni is senior consultant, internal medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi)