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In early May 2022, reports of Monkeypox infections in Europe, starting with the United Kingdom, began surfacing. Since then, over 250 cases have been reported across Europe, North America, Oceania, and most recently, South America saw its first case. Countries with infections outside the African continent include the U.S, U.K, Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Argentina, and Australia, amongst others. While Monkeypox is a well-known and documented virus, it is uncommon for it to spread outside tropical Africa. Reports indicated that the infected were predominantly of the LGBTQ community, particularly, homosexual men. Other reports further indicate that the points of infection, in two European countries, were super spreader places frequented by homosexual men. Indicating that it is possibly an environmental transfer. Nonetheless, this led to the widespread circulation of false claims.
Misleading Claims About Monkeypox
Thus far, Misbar has debunked at least six claims related to Monkeypox, including the linking of the virus to gay men. Social media users claimed homosexual men were the cause of the outbreak and implied that heterosexuals would not get infected. Another claim is that Monkeypox is a form of vaccine acquired immunodeficiency (VAIDS) from the COVID-19 vaccine, which is also not true. VAIDS does not exist, it is a fake condition. Some social media users also circulated claims that Monkeypox was predicted by Bill Gates and The Simpsons, as well as land and sea closuresdue to the Monkeypox outbreak. However, these claims spur misinformation and fear regarding the outbreak. Although worried, experts have advised people to be cautious but asserted that there is no need to panic, because the situation is “containable”, and a vaccine that offers some protection against it already exists.
Background of the Monkeypox Virus
The Monkeypox virus is a zoonotic virus discovered in 1958, when "two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research." The main disease carrier of Monkeypox is unknown and suspected to be “African rodents.” Therefore, the virus also infects animals such as pets and can be passed on from/to them. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Monkeypox transmission occurs from “one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.” They add that the virus’s incubation period “ is usually from 6 to 13 days but can range from 5 to 21 days.” While the virus is self-limiting with symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion, worst cases may also include lesions. The virus may become severe in children, pregnant women, or persons with immunosuppression due to other health conditions.
The first known case of Monkeypox in humans was "recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox," the CDC said. Since then, most cases have been concentrated in about a dozen endemic African countries which are “Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana (identified in animals only), Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.” Most recently, Congo saw 1200 infections and over 58 deaths across 17 provinces in the country.
Monkeypox Outbreaks Outside Africa
While the virus is endemic to a few African countries, this is not the first time infections were reported outside the continent. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2003, 47 people in six American states, namely “Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin became ill due to contact with their pet prairie dogs. The pets were infected after being housed near imported small mammals from Ghana." The outbreak was contained by extensive laboratory testing, administration of Smallpox vaccine, providing guidance to victims and healthcare providers, tracking possibly infected animals and prohibiting the importation of certain African rodents.
Ongoing Investigations of the Monkeypox Outbreak
While there is no specific medicinal treatment for Monkeypox, "treatment is generally supportive," or targets individual symptoms. However, the smallpox vaccine offers 85% protection against Monkeypox. The WHO “proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.” People exposed to the virus can be targeted with the vaccine to contain the outbreak.
Currently, health authorities are still investigating the outbreak and the origins. It is possible a man travelling from Nigeria to the U.K was the first person infected, but this has not been confirmed. A Risk Assessment by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), advised European countries to "focus on prompt identification, treatment and tracing of contacts and reporting of new Monkeypox cases." Health agencies also urge people to remain cautious and be careful. Sharing unverified information should also be avoided to reduce misleading and false claims which only harm efforts to contain the outbreak and minimise the risks.