Monkeypox virus
The US Centre for Disease Control describes monkeypox as a zoonotic disease, transferred from animals to humans and then on, from infected humans to others with direct contact through lesions or mixing of body fluids such as sweat, blood, saliva and semen. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Health experts at hospitals in the UAE have assured residents to not be afraid of monkeypox, be educated about the disease and seek immediate help in case of symptoms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined the incidence of monkeypox cases as an outbreak, with several confirmed cases in 30 countries around the world since May.

Recently, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) tweeted about monkeypox, explaining its symptoms and educating people on how it is different from chickenpox.

What is monkeypox?

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) describes monkeypox as a zoonotic disease, transferred from animals to humans and then on, from infected humans to others with direct contact through lesions or mixing of body fluids such as sweat, blood, saliva and semen. The disease is endemic to African countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Congo, Gabon, Ghana and other countries in West and Central Africa.

Monkeypox vs chickenpox

Dr Sameem Majid Matto

Dr Sameem Majid Matto, specialist in internal medicine, endocrinology and head of infection control at the Canadian Hospital in Dubai, said: “Monkeypox and chickenpox may have similar symptoms, but are totally different kinds of condition and must not be confused. Monkeypox is caused by the Orthopoxvirus genus. It belongs to the family of Poxviridae, a family to which the smallpox-causing variola virus belonged.

“Chicken pox is caused by the varicella zoster virus. This belongs to the same family of viruses that cause Herpes and Shingles. Both, monke pox and chickenpox follow a pattern of outbreak of rash, fever and fatigue and require isolation.”

People are not worried about smallpox, as the virus was eradicated long ago. “We are not alarmed about it belonging to the same family as smallpox as this disease has been eradicated. However, people are confused between the more prevalent chickenpox and monkeypox conditions and agonise over not knowing what they are suffering from.”

What are the differences?

Dr Fiaz Ahmed

Dr Fiaz Ahmed, head of Infection Control Department at Thumbay University Hospital, explained the four stages of rash and lesion formation development in monkeypox.

“The symptoms of monkeypox and chickenpox are similar. Both the diseases start with fever, muscle weakness, fatigue and involve rash. In case of monkeypox the dead giveaway is the swelling in the lymph nodes,” he said.

Four stages of rash in monkeypox

Dr Ahmed further elaborated the four stages of rash to pus filled red bumps progression in monkey pox.

“The first formation is called macules, which are flat, small lesions. In a few days, they change to papules that are larger elevated lesions. These change to vesicles that are fluid filled lesions and they further progress to pustules or pus-filled lesions. Eventually a crust forms in the pustule as it dries off, forming a crust, which is shed by the body. This process takes about 21 days. In this period, there can be times, when one lesion falls and another is formed in its place. The individual needs t in quarantine or isolation for the entire period until the last crust falls off,” explained Dr Ahmed.

Monkeypox less contagious

Dr Matto said: “Monkeypox can be contracted only through direct and prolonged exposure to the body fluids [saliva, blood or semen] of an infected person. However, chickenpox is highly contagious. The chances of those in touch with a chickenpox patient getting it is close to 90 per cent as it is spread through respiratory droplets. Fortunately, chicken pox is preventable with a vaccine and it is known that those who contract it once do not have a second instance of contracting the disease.

“Chicken pox can be severe in cases when an individual is immune compromised where people suffer from co-morbidities, or are recipients of donor organs.”

No cause for worry

Dr Ahmed said: “In both cases, be it chickenpox or monkeypox, these are self-limiting disease. This means isolation and treatment with anti- viral helps in battling it until a person is free of it. The only serious side effects in monkey pox are pneumonia, brain encephalitis in very rare cases and that can lead to fatal consequences. Virologists have found that patients who had been vaccinated for small pox earlier have about 80 per immunity against monkey pox.”

Both doctors reassured that there was no cause for alarm. With proper care, both diseases are treatable.

Protocols for prevention

Dr Ahmed said: “Wear face masks and sanitise your hands and practice all the social distancing protocols. If in spite of all precautions you feel symptoms, do not panic. Call your nearest hospital emergency. The Ministry of Health and Prevention has facilities to carry out an RT-PCR to determine if you have monkeypox. This is done free of cost and there are isolation facilities for treatment.”

Dr Matto additionally cautioned that people feeling the first flush of symptoms must immediately isolate themselves and seek medical help to mitigate any extreme effects.