SEATTLE — In 1970, monkeypox infected people throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this was the first time this disease had been observed in human populations. In the following decades, intermittent outbreaks of monkeypox occurred throughout Africa; since September, nine cases of monkeypox in Nigeria were confirmed.
Origins of Monkeypox
Monkeypox is a rare disease with symptoms similar to, but milder than, smallpox. It has been observed mainly throughout remote regions of central and western Africa, with major outbreaks occurring in 1996, 2005 and 2016.
Though the disease predominately affects people living in Africa, it has proven capable of spreading between continents. In 2003, 37 cases of monkeypox were diagnosed in the U.S., infecting individuals from six different states in the midwest region.
Causes of Monkeypox
Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis, meaning it is one of few diseases that are capable of passing from animals to humans. As suggested by its name, monkeypox often originates in small primates, but it also commonly infects rodents like tree squirrels and Gambian rats. The virus transmits from one host to another through exposure to infected bodily fluids.
The consumption of bushmeat seems to play a role in the transmission of monkeypox. In light of the recent monkeypox outbreak, the Nigerian government has warned citizens to be wary of what they eat.
The pet trade, a common industry in tropical parts of Africa, also contributes to the spread of monkeypox. When pet traders handle infected animals from the rainforest, it gives monkeypox the opportunity to spread from animal to human populations. When the U.S. experienced cases of monkeypox infection, the source of the disease was imported exotic pets from Africa, which then spread the virus to their owners.
Prevention and Containment
Monkeypox only kills between one and 10 percent of its victims, but it is virulent, difficult to treat and especially harmful to children. Due to its similarity to smallpox, monkeypox can be effectively combated with the smallpox vaccine. Eighty five percent of monkeypox-infected individuals recover when given a dose of smallpox vaccine. However, large-scale production of the smallpox vaccine was discontinued after global eradication was confirmed in 1980, making the vaccine extremely difficult to obtain.
Despite the lack of a vaccine, monkeypox can usually be contained successfully. Unfortunately, monkeypox in Nigeria, which began in the state of Bayelsa, has spread to Akwa-Ibom and Enugu. Nine cases have been confirmed by laboratory tests, but nearly 90 more are suspected.
In order to quell the recent outbreak, the Nigerian Ministry of Health has partnered closely with epidemiology teams in each infected state in order to effectively detect and treat emerging cases. The Emergency Operations Center of Nigeria, which was extremely successful in extinguishing the Ebola outbreak, has also joined the fight against monkeypox.
Rapid response teams have also been positioned in infected regions to provide on-the-ground assistance. Perhaps most importantly, educational programs are being enacted to inform citizens of symptoms and methods of avoiding transmission. So far, there have been no fatalities from Monkeypox in Nigeria.
– Mary Efird