Estonian health experts believe monkeypox will not go pandemic

Juta Varjas.
Juta Varjas. Source: ERR

The until recently rare and largely contained to Africa monkeypox virus spreading quickly in Europe, the Americas and Australia is making health experts anxious. Estonian experts believe the outbreak will not develop into a pandemic.

The list of countries where cases of monkeypox have recently been diagnosed is growing every day. The disease, first diagnosed in humans in 1952, has spread endemically in central and western Africa. While there have been isolated cases in Europe and America, these have always been connected to traveling.

"Starting this spring, we have been seeing cases without the epidemiological traveling anamnesis. /…/ The other noteworthy aspect is that those infected are mostly young men who practice risky sexual behavior," said Juta Varjas, chief specialist of communicable diseases for the Health Board.

These two peculiarities are behind medical experts' concerns. It is too soon to say whether the outbreak has been caused by a new and more contagious strain.

"Patients first develop a headache, muscle pains and swollen lymph nodes, followed by a chickenpox-like rash that starts on the face and spreads to limbs, the torso and the crotch area," Varjas described.

Recent reports suggest that the symptoms are mild and the disease will simply run its course. The virus can spread both through direct and indirect contact.

"It spreads via bodily fluids and pieces of skin coming loose from blisters. It is somewhat transmittable through droplets in the air, while it tends not to spread as easily as the coronavirus, Margus Varjak, assistant professor of virology at the University of Tartu, said.

He does not believe monkeypox could unleash a new pandemic as, unlike the coronavirus, its symptoms are obvious.

Smallpox vaccination campaigns pursued until the 1980s could help slow the spread of monkeypox.

"Those who have been immunized against smallpox should have a better outlook for monkeypox. There is data to suggest smallpox vaccination offers 85 percent protection against monkeypox," Varjak said.

Laboratories have confirmed 38 cases of monkeypox recently, with reports of around 200 cases from all over the world.

Varjak added that another interesting aspect about the disease is its misleading name in that monkeypox is mainly spread by rodents. The name monkeypox followed the discovery of the disease in macaques in Denmark in 1958.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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