Should we be worried about an epidemic of monkeypox in Europe? After the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal announced in turn, Wednesday, May 18, more than forty suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox.
► What is monkeypox?
Also called monkeypox, Monkeypox is a virus transmitted to humans from animals. The first cases were observed in 1958 in monkeys in central and western Africa. Transmission is thought to have first occurred through direct or indirect contact with wild rodents. The first human case was discovered in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A potentially fatal disease, although very rare, monkeypox manifests itself with symptoms similar to those of human smallpox. Those infected usually present with fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash on the hands and face, like chickenpox. Without treatment, this disease usually heals on its own.
► Which countries are concerned?
While monkeypox epidemics have almost never reached the European continent, several neighboring countries have recorded cases in recent weeks. A total of 23 suspected cases have been identified in the Madrid region, local health authorities announced on Wednesday evening.
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In Portugal there are “more than 20 suspected cases (…) in the Lisbon region (West)of which 5 have been confirmed »announced the Directorate General of Health of Portugal: “These cases, for the majority of young people, all male, presented ulcerative lesions”said the health authority.
The United Kingdom, which first reported cases as early as May 6, said on Wednesday evening it had identified two new ones, bringing the total number of people infected to nine.
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With the exception of the first case (the infected person had recently traveled to Nigeria), the patients were infected in the United Kingdom, raising fears of local transmission. Also across the Atlantic, several cases have been detected in the United States and Canada.
► Can we fear an epidemic in Europe?
When the disease appeared in the Congo in the 1980s, monkeypox caused few contaminations. At that time “almost the entire population of the DRC was vaccinated against human smallpox and the vaccine was 85% effective against monkeypox “explained the Pasteur Institute in a note published in September 2020.
But since the 1980s, the health situation has gradually deteriorated and the number of cases has increased. In Europe, the situation could pose a public health risk, as smallpox vaccination ceased on the continent in the 1980s. “Immunity has continued to decline, leaving the current population vulnerable to a monkeypox pandemic”warns the Pasteur Institute.
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The British authorities remain reassuring, however, considering that the risk of transmission between humans remained ” weak “, the virus is not transmitted “not easily between people. A finding also observed in Spain. “Transmission occurs through the respiratory route, but these 23 supposed cases of infection suggest that transmission took place through the mucous membranes during sexual intercourse,” specified a document published by the health authorities on Wednesday, May 18.
Health authorities in England have identified four cases in people identifying themselves as “gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men”.