Don’t Go Ape: Keeping Monkeypox in Perspective
Just when you thought it was safe to go out again…. there’s no question that monkeypox is grabbing the health headlines from Covid in the more sensationalist press. Graphic pictures of skin conditions make this a more visual infection than Covid. While it’s certainly unpleasant, does that make it as dangerous? Colin looks behind the headlines for his take.
Much like the false widow spider “invasion” story normally repeated in 12-month cycles, the arrival of monkeypox is the media health scare story du jour.
But unlike the false widow, which has been indigenous for more than a century, monkeypox is a genuine and recent import to the UK. Since first being identified on May 7, infections have reached 179. Not huge numbers, but it’s a rising infection rate – 71 more over the last weekend. And if Covid taught us anything, it’s we ignore early warning signs at our cost.
Monkeypox: officially a pain
Certainly, the UK’s four public health agencies acknowledge the potential problem, updating their guidance to healthcare professionals and buying in more than 20,000 doses of Imvanex, a safe smallpox vaccine principally for close contacts of monkeypox patients, to reduce infection risk.
The obvious disparity between current confirmed cases and the quantity of vaccines now in storage speaks to a potential issue. Even family pets are being scrutinized for their potential to spread monkeypox. And if you get it, you’ll know about it. Symptoms include:
So, how worried should we be, if at all? Well, Google, the go-to for a panic-stricken populous, is not suggesting nationwide terror. Typing ‘How do I catch mon…’ shows more searches for infectious mononucleosis, the kissing disease, and ‘catching Galarian Moltres in Pokemon’. This is not to suggest we shouldn’t be wary of monkeypox, recognise the symptoms, and avoid encountering it – just that perspective is important when the memory of Covid 19, which is still very much with us, is so vivid.
A problem of scale
The key is to ensure you get your information from a reliable source. The dedicated NHS page for monkeypox puts the problem into a context that should ease most fears. So does the World Health Organization. For example, the term ‘outbreak’ feels like an emergency, when a single case of monkeypox appearing in a non-endemic country qualifies as just that. Similarly, their latest bulletin shows that there are similar outbreaks in only three non-endemic (ie not in central or west Africa) European countries. No-one has died.
The WHO reason the recent easing of travel restrictions has enabled the virus to spread more rapidly and, of course, the worldwide rolling back of Covid embargoes will likely accelerate the spread of both monkeypox and Covid itself. As will the forthcoming four-day Jubilee weekend.
Professor Denis Kinane of Cignpost Diagnostics warns that the ending of free Covid testing, waning immunity levels and the sudden outburst of socializing is likely to mean a rise in both first-time Covid infections and re-infections. The same is also true of monkeypox that spreads in similar circumstances, particularly through:
Medical professionals are aligning the spread of monkeypox with sexual activity among gay men, but with such a small sample of confirmed cases at large, it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.
So, with monkeypox as it is with Covid, simply avoiding crowds in enclosed spaces, avoiding unnecessary risk, and listening to good advice are key to keeping safe. If you can enjoy yourself within those common-sense parameters, then the only itch you’re likely to scratch will be the urge to get out and about again.
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