Monkeypox is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox Image Credit: Shutterstock

While the Covid-19 pandemic is still a major health crisis in several parts of the world, a global Monkeypox Virus (MVP) outbreak has pushed the WHO to declare it a public health emergency of international concern.

Monkeypox virus is not a new virus like coronavirus; it was first discovered in 1958 among a group of monkeys kept inside a cage for research. However, the first recorded human case of monkeypox was in 1970. Before the ongoing outbreak, monkeypox cases were primarily confined to central and western African regions.

However, the present global outbreak that started in late April was first spotted in Europe. Never so many people in so many countries were infected. More than 20,000 total cases have been reported in 76 countries. Out of these 76 countries, 70 countries have no previous history of monkeypox cases.

Most reported cases are in the US, Spain, Germany, and the UK. Monkeypox usually starts with flu-like symptoms flowed by blisters like rash, but in this outbreak, in some cases, even a rash appears beforehand.

Monkeypox spreads in various ways, from direct contact with infectious rash to intimate physical contact to touching items that have come in contact with contagious body fluid. The illness period is 2 to 4 weeks, and only a small number of cases become severe.

The disease’s death rate in recent times has been around 3-6 per cent. The vaccination for smallpox is about 85 per cent effective against monkeypox, and if a vaccinated person gets the disease, it is likely to result in milder symptoms.

RASH: Monkeypox causes fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes , and a rash. The rash begins as flat spots that turn into bumps, which then fill with fluid. The bumps crust and fall off as they heal. Some people develop spots that look like pimples or blisters before having any other symptoms. Image Credit: File

Less contagious and less deadly

Monkeypox is less contagious and less deadly than smallpox. However, as the virus is evolving, Dr. Anthony Fauci, top scientist and immunologist serving as the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, has thus warned that the present outbreak needs to be taken seriously as its scope is largely unknown and it has the potential to spread much faster than what has been in the past.

In the US alone, the number of monkeypox cases has been around 5000 already, and the mayor of San Francisco has announced a legal state of emergency.

Though the outbreak has probably not gone out of control yet, it is pretty apparent that many governments have failed to stop the spreading of the virus. It is, however, most unfortunate that the world has failed to learn from the mistakes that it had committed during the Covid-19 crisis.

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The prosperous and developed countries have remained entirely unprepared to meet the Monkeypox crisis. They didn’t heed early warning signs and ignored the disease for decades as it was primarily confined to the ‘faraway’ Congo basin countries only. The epidemiologists have been warning for some time that the disease is spreading to other parts of the world, but that has failed to wake them up.

While the disease has come to Europe and North America in a big way, most of these countries have started to take a unilateral approach to acquire vaccines. After initial confusion and inaction, they began to hoard vaccine doses and medicines for the treatment of their citizens.

Covid-19 has taught clearly that the vaccine-apartheid approach doesn’t work. It is beneficial for every country to cooperate and follow a policy of sharing and targeting vaccines and treatments where they are most needed, irrespective of national boundaries. Unfortunately, this realisation hasn’t come yet despite getting recent lessons from the Covid-19 crisis.

Massive misinformation campaign

As has happened with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a massive misinformation campaign, both in mainstream media and social media platforms, particularly in creating a stigma around monkeypox.

WHO Director-General has warned that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.” Most cases in the global monkeypox outbreak are indeed men who have sex with other men.

However, monkeypox is not a predominantly gay disease. The virus can affect anyone because monkeypox can spread through skin-to-skin contact and touching contaminated objects like clothing, bedsheets, and towels. In the US, at least two children have already been diagnosed with monkeypox.

As seen during the Covid crisis, the shame stops people from getting tested or treated, leading to the further spread of the disease Image Credit: Shutterstock

If the virus is not controlled soon, there is no doubt that it will spread among everyone. Stigmatisation of people from a particular orientation, region, religion, or race can be extremely unhelpful for a timely and adequate medical response. As seen during the Covid crisis, the shame stops people from getting tested or treated, leading to the further spread of the disease.

Finally, it has been highly insensitive on the part of the scientific community and media to continue to call the virus monkeypox. Naming the infectious disease with an animal, particularly a monkey, makes it easier to stigmatise the affected people whom bigots want to stigmatise.

Moreover, it was probably accidental that the virus was first identified in a monkey, and neither the virus originated from monkeys nor did monkeys transmit it to human beings.

Thus, it doesn’t make sense why the virus is called monkeypox virus. In 2015, the WHO issued best practices for naming new human infectious diseases, in which it has asked to avoid using the names of any animal species. Monkeypox may not be a new disease, but it has become global for the first time.

Thus, WHO is not only needed to ensure a global partnership to address the global outbreak effectively but also to find an appropriate name for the virus and not to call it monkeypox.