Monkeypox: How you can protect yourself from the virus and what to do if you have symptoms

·3-min read
Monkeypox: How you can protect yourself from the virus and what to do if you have symptoms

The number of confirmed cases of the monkeypox, a virus related to smallpox that is typically limited to Africa, is growing - particularly in Europe and North America.

The virus which is less deadly than smallpox typically lasts for two to four weeks and symptoms can appear anywhere from five to 21 days after infection.

Although health professionals across the globe stress the risk to the general population is low, it is important to know how monkeypox spreads and what you can do to protect yourself from infection.

How does monkeypox spread?

Typically, monkeypox is known to spread to people who have had contact with infected animals. This could be following a bite, scratch or consuming uncooked animal meat.

Monkeypox can also spread from human to human. Although this was originally thought of as rare, the recent and unusual rapid rise of infections outside of the west and central Africa has raised concerns.

It is typically spread between people in three ways: inhaling respiratory droplets; directly touching an infected person; and, less often, through indirect contact – such as through clothes or linen that have been in contact with fluid from sores.

Respiratory transmission involves large droplets that don’t linger in the air or travel far. As a result, person-to-person spread typically requires prolonged, intimate contact.

Monkeypox is also spread through close personal contact, like skin-to-skin contact or kissing.

The virus is generally not considered a sexually transmitted infection and it is not known to be spread through semen during intercourse.

However, “it can be transmitted during sexual and intimate contact”, Dr John Brooks, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on 23 May.

So far, the majority of cases have been spread through sex with a particular concentration among gay and bisexual men. However, anyone can be at risk of catching the virus.

How can you protect yourself against monkeypox?

While health experts agree the risks to the general public are low, there are a number of precautions you can take to decrease your risk of catching monkeypox.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and the US Centers for Disease Control, the best precautions you can take are:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water regularly or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients who are confirmed or infected with the monkeypox virus.

  • Only eating meat that has been cooked thoroughly.

  • Do not go near wild or stray animals, including dead animals, as well as animals that look unwell.

  • Do not eat or touch meat from wild animals.

  • Do not share bedding or towels with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox.

  • Do not have close contact with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox.

  • What should you do if you catch monkeypox?

  • Initial symptoms of monkeypox can consist of headaches, muscle aches, swelling, back pain and fever.

Within one to five days of infection, lesions and rashes typically occur across the body - on the hands, face, feet, eyes, mouth and genitals. These eventually turn into raised bumps which form blisters, some also fill with white fluid before breaking and scabbing over. This fluid can be infectious.

If you have these symptoms or suspect that you may have contracted the virus you should isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek medical advice immediately.

If you have contracted the virus, you will be required to isolate until you have recovered.

Individuals who catch monkeypox typically recover within two to four weeks. The symptoms can be confused with other illnesses - such as herpes, syphilis or chickenpox - so it is important to confirm with a medical professional as soon as possible.

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