With the monkeypox outbreak spreading globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it as a PHEIC - ‘public health emergency of international concern’. This declaration, which is WHO’s highest alarm, is a way to create a wake-up call for countries as they struggle to contain the spread of the monkeypox virus.

So far there have been 4 confirmed monkeypox cases in India – one in Delhi and three in Kerala. Recently, a man suspected to be suffering from monkeypox has been isolated at Delhi's Lok Nayak hospital.

Since the infection has generated a lot of conversations and subsequent doubts about how to prevent monkeypox and what kind of treatment to seek, health experts have answered some frequently asked questions and they encourage people to stay safe and not panic.

How monkeypox spreads and what happens when you get it?

Explaining ways in which the infection can spread, Dr Arvind Kumar, Director HOD, Paediatrics, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, says that the infection can spread by “touching an infected person's rash, scabs, body fluid, sharing of clothing and bedding and also through tiny droplets from kissing and cuddling. Pregnant women can pass the disease to the baby in the uterus.”

Several people from around the world are also opening about their painful and exhausting experiences with the monkeypox infection. However, Dr. Kumar explains that for most people it is a mild illness. He adds, “Rarely, it can become serious in small children, pregnant women, or immune-compromised individuals. Some of the serious complications of monkeypox are corneal involvement, Encephalitis, Sepsis, Pneumonia, and secondary infection in skin lesions.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Consultant-Internal Medicine, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram, talks about what kinds of symptoms you can experience when infected with monkeypox. These include “fever, malaise, lethargy, joint pains, rash, and itching over a blister like rash that is larger than one to three millimetres in diameter and is painful. The fever usually lasts for one to three weeks, and the blisters or the rash also lasts for two to four weeks. The monkeypox virus is thought to be mildly dangerous as mortality ranges from one to 2% ratio.”

Treatment, prevention and vaccination

Dr. Kumar breaks down the ways to treat a monkeypox infection at home, once you have consulted your doctor for diagnosis and required medication. He explains, “Most people and children can be treated at home through self-isolation in a ventilated room, taking paracetamol for fever and pain, by maintaining good hydration, soothing application on skin lesions. If eyes are involved, eye care must be done under the supervision of an eye specialist.”

He also shares some basic points to remember on how to prevent the disease in the first place. These are as follows:

  • Avoid close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person
  • Do not touch the rash or scab of an infected person
  • Wear gloves and a mask when taking care of an infected person
  • Do not share utensils, clothing, bedding, etc.
  • Soiled clothes can be washed in a washing machine with detergent
  • Wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based rub

Detailing the status of monkeypox vaccination, Dr. Gupta says that the vaccine which was used for smallpox is also being used to treat monkeypox and has been found to be effective in more than 85% of such cases. He adds that a new vaccine has been developed by the FDA and is being used as a precautionary measure for a vaccination for monkey fever. “Preventing monkey fever by social isolation remains the most important way to prevent this zoonotic fever.” Dr. Kumar adds that people who had the smallpox vaccine (born before 1978) would have some degree of protection.

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