The Biden administration has declared the new monkeypox a public health emergency. But is it something we really need to worry about? Here's what the latest data says.
A human skin sample of monkeypox virus particles from a 2003 prairie dog outbreak. Image is a digitally-colorized electron microscope image. Credit: CDC
The CDC reports the number of US cases at 7510 as of 5 August, 2022. The ECDC-WHO reports the number of cases in Europe & the surrounding regions at 15926 through official sources and 15624 through TESSy. Combined, that is 23436/23134 total cases between Europe and the United States, and the number continues to grow. Occurrence among healthcare workers appears to be low (2.2%, ECDC-WHO).
An analysis of the data from ECDC-WHO shows that the virus disproportionately affects men, with the majority of cases in either sex occurring between 18 and 50 years old. Of TESSy-reported data, hospitalizations and ICU admissions remain very low (5.6% and 0.1%, respectively), and not even all of those are strictly due to monkeypox infection. Only 2 infected people have died in the European region so far. 35.9% of cases have also tested HIV-positive, although interactions between monkeypox and HIV are unknown. Also of interesting note, again from ECDC-WHO TESSy data, the majority of infections among cases with known sexual orientation occur among homo/bisexual men (men who have sex with men, or MSM).
Although the CDC reports transmission occurring through direct contact with infectious wounds or body fluids from an infected person, contact with respiratory secretions, and contact with objects handled by infected persons, a report from the UK government (5 August 2022) notes that transmission occurs primarily through close sexual contact. It is likely that this is the primary mode of transmission for the rest Europe and the US as well.
According to the same UK report, the current monkeypox is a mutated variant of the parent kind originating from West and Central Africa. Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox (but it is NOT smallpox and is generally milder) and is otherwise rare in developed nations. Given the slow mutation rate of most DNA-based viruses, the rapid mutation rate of this virus despite it being DNA-based may be a cause for concern.
According to TESSy data, rash is the most commonly reported symptom (94.8%), with systemic symptoms (fever, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, headache) (65.4%) also quite common. Lesions in the skin or mucus membranes and in anogenital skin are also somewhat common (46.7% and 44.8%, respectively). Other symptoms may include vomiting/diarrhea and respiratory symptoms. The CDC claims the illness to last from 2-4 weeks, with symptoms appearing ~3 weeks after exposure and rash appearing 1-4 days after onset of flu-like symptoms (respiratory and systemic symptoms).
The above is a summary of the most important data. Given the current data, monkeypox may be a nasty illness to have, but generally it is not fatal. However, it may mutate into more dangerous variants. As of the date of publication of this post, we determine the new monkeypox virus to be worth keeping a close eye on, especially if and as cases continue to rise, and if the rate of spread increases. While a declaration of an epidemic in European regions would not be unwarranted, we do not consider the virus to have reached epidemic levels for the US or pandemic levels in general. However, new data may reveal a need for quick public action.
The sources cited in this article are updated often as new data emerges, so if you are interested in keeping up-to-date on the monkeypox situation, bookmark them and watch them for new updates. We may also post updates if and when new major changes to the situation arise. Stay safe!
Disclaimer: Information or opinions presented here are not a substitute for medical advice. If you are concerned that you might have monkeypox, COVID-19, or any other conditions, please consult your physician. CytoLuminescent is not an official source of information on monkeypox, COVID-19, or other current outbreaks.