Is monkeypox like Covid? How the two viruses compare explained

Monkeypox cases in the UK continue to rise, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) telling anyone who has had direct or domestic contact with a confirmed case to isolate for 21 days.

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The recent outbreak of monkeypox was first detected in the UK on May 7th

We spoke to health experts to find out how the virus might be evolving – and if we should be concerned.

“When a virus like this breaks out, it’s always a cause for concern”

Hussain Abdeh, clinical director and chief pharmacist at Medicine Direct, said monkeypox is “definitely not another Covid, so people don’t have to worry about us being locked in our homes”.

He added: “Monkeypox is better understood than Covid was at the beginning of the pandemic.”

The first Covid cases in the UK were first identified in January 2020 and people who had contracted the virus were told to self-isolate.

However, as Covid cases spread rapidly across the country, on March 16, 2020 people were asked to work from home wherever possible and everyone was told to “go to pubs, clubs, theaters and other such social facilities avoid”.

A week later, on March 23, 2020, the UK’s first lockdown began. What is the development of monkeypox so far?

The latest outbreak of monkeypox was first detected in the UK on May 7, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recommending on May 23 that people who had “unprotected direct contact or exposure to the environment pose a high risk”. , should self-isolate for three weeks.

However, unlike the Covid lockdown and self-isolation requirement, the monkeypox isolation guidance is advisory and not mandatory.

As of Wednesday 24 May there were currently 78 cases of monkeypox in the UK and while this is quite a small number for the UK, Mr Abdeh said the daily cases are ‘an unusual and unprecedented high for this country’. Monkeypox typically occurs in parts of west or central Africa and cases are usually rare in the UK.

“When a virus like this breaks out, it’s always a cause for concern, although not for panic,” he said.

“Monkeypox is outside its usual home in the UK, which means it requires prolonged close contact between people to continue to thrive. As a result, outbreaks of monkeypox are usually short-lived.”

Martin Michaelis, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Kent, echoed this, saying that barring “no unforeseen events” then “it seems unlikely that monkeypox will cause an outbreak on the scale of Covid-19”.

The professor explained that monkeypox does not spread as easily as Covid because you can easily contract it from a person with Covid if you are in the same room with them for a short time, even without direct contact.

But people usually need to be in much closer contact for monkeypox to be transmitted, whereby the virus spreads by touching someone with the infection, using the same bedding, or sneezing or coughing directly on them, Prof Michaelis noted.

The symptoms of monkeypox, including rash and blisters, are also “much more obvious and definite and cannot easily be confused with a common cold like Covid-19,” Prof Michaelis said.

He added: “Monkeypox is also usually only contagious in patients who show symptoms.

“Therefore, there isn’t this level of asymptomatic spread from people who don’t know they are contagious that we’re used to with Covid-19.”

possibility of mutation

One of the most worrying aspects of Covid is its ability to mutate and potentially become more serious than the original strain. During the pandemic, we’ve seen different iterations of the virus – from the Delta strain to the milder Omicron variant. So what are the chances of monkeypox doing the same thing and potentially becoming a more serious disease?

Martin Michaelis, a professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, said monkeypox is a DNA virus whose genome has historically been fairly stable.

In comparison, SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is an RNA virus that has a very high mutation rate and can evolve very quickly.

This means that the risk of mutation in monkeypox is “much lower” than in Covid, explained Prof. Michaelis.

However, he added that mutations still occur in monkeypox, and even a few or just one mutation can alter a virus’ properties.

“This would be of particular concern if we had continued human-to-human spread, which would give the monkeypox virus an opportunity to better adapt to humans,” Prof Michaelis said.

This is echoed by Mr Abdeh, who said viruses are “mutating all the time”, which is what they have to do “to survive”.

Because we’ve seen several different variants of Covid as a result of the virus being developed to fight vaccines, it’s possible that monkeypox could also mutate, he explained.

However, since monkeypox is a “far better understood virus” than Covid and a lot of research already exists, it would be easier to treat, Mr Abdeh said.

How deadly is monkeypox?

The latest data sheet from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the mortality rate from monkeypox has historically ranged from 0% to 11%, but more recently has been around 3-6%.

However, the upper ranges may be in countries without good health care, so it is by no means a universal mortality rate.

Monkeypox is usually a mild illness that gets better on its own without treatment, but some people can develop more severe symptoms, so patients with monkeypox in the UK are treated in specialist hospitals.

Treatment for monkeypox is aimed at relieving symptoms, with most people recovering in two to four weeks, Mr Abdeh said.

In comparison, estimates of the death rate from Covid have varied during the pandemic. Many studies estimate it to be between 0.5% and 1% in the first year, but lethality can vary from country to country depending on wealth and healthcare infrastructure.

Mortality rates will also have improved over time as better treatments have been developed.

Is there a vaccine against monkeypox?

While several vaccines have been developed to prevent the spread of Covid, there is currently no monkeypox vaccine in the UK – although the US does have one.

However, the UK government recently bought stocks of the smallpox vaccine to be used against monkeypox.

Prof Michaelis said that because the UK now has smallpox vaccines that “provide adequate protection against monkeypox, even up to four days after infection”, it should therefore “be possible to trace chains of transmission through contact tracing and isolation and Vaccination of monkeypox contacts to interrupt patients”.

He added that older people who received the smallpox vaccine before vaccination programs ended in the 1970s or early 1980s “should still have some protection against monkeypox.”

According to the WHO, the clinical presentation of monkeypox is similar to that of smallpox because it is a related orthopoxvirus infection, but smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980.

Monkeypox symptoms are similar to those seen in smallpox patients in the past, but they are clinically less severe.

Lymphadenopathy, that is, swelling of the lymph nodes, is also a distinguishing feature of monkeypox compared to other diseases that may seem similar at first glance, such as: B. Chickenpox.

Monkeypox and smallpox are both caused by members of the poxvirus family, but chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is not related to the smallpoxviruses.

Monkey Pox and Children

Worryingly, Prof Michaelis said that monkeypox could pose a greater risk to children than Covid-19 because children are “particularly susceptible to this disease and have not been vaccinated against smallpox”.

However, researchers who have looked at the current outbreak of monkeypox, as well as previous cases of the disease, have said it is rare in children.

dr David Porter, Advisor for Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a parent with a child who could develop a rash, I don’t think parents should be concerned that at this stage it is… monkeypox , because we see a very small number of cases.

“And in all previous outbreaks that have occurred outside of Africa in recent years, we’ve seen a very rare number of cases in children, so it’s been mostly adults anyway.”

He added that when children have a rash and are out of contact with someone who has had monkeypox, parents and caregivers should rest easy and follow what they normally do.

Do we need to worry?

As the experts above have said, monkeypox is unlikely to develop like Covid and it is highly unlikely that the UK will go into lockdown due to the virus.

However, because viruses can mutate and monkeypox can be transmitted and spread between humans and animals, it is a virus that is being closely monitored and it is not yet clear what the outcome will be. Is monkeypox like Covid? How the two viruses compare explained


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