(CTN News) – Recent headlines about the emergence of an unusual disease, spreading case by case across nations and continents may remind some of early 2020.
Monkeypox, usually found in central and west Africa, has been appearing in Europe and the U.S. in recent weeks – even in people who haven’t traveled to Africa.
While public health officials need to be aware of monkeypox, experts say the virus is unlikely to spin out into an uncontrolled pandemic the way COVID-19 did.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of the Smallpox Secretariat at the World Health Organization, said at a public Q&A session on Monday that monkeypox and COVID are two distinct diseases.
Monkeypox spreads much less easily than COVID-19. Since monkeypox was first discovered in humans more than 50 years ago, scientists have studied it. Moreover, it is similar to smallpox in many ways, so it can be treated similarly.
Consequently, scientists are already familiar with how monkeypox spreads, how it presents, and how to treat and contain it – which gives authorities a much larger head start in containing it.
Here are some other ways monkeypox is different from COVID-19:
Scientists already know how it spreads, and it’s different than COVID
In order for monkeypox to spread, it usually requires very close contact – usually skin-to-skin contact or prolonged physical contact with infected clothing or bedding.
COVID-19 spreads rapidly and easily. In rare cases, Coronavirus can spread by simply talking with another person or sharing a room with an infected person.
“Transmission occurs mainly through close physical contact, like skin-to-skin,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the WHO.
Monkeypox typically causes a rash that starts on the face and then spreads to the limbs or other parts of the body.
From the time of exposure until lesions appear, the incubation period can range from five days to about 21 days, says Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease physician and virologist at Emory University.
According to experts, the current outbreak follows a different pattern – in particular, the rash begins in the genital area, then spreads.
Monkeypox is less contagious than COVID-19
COVID-19 spread rapidly across the globe because it is highly contagious. That’s even more true of variants that have emerged in the last year.
A disease’s R0 value is the average number of people who an infected person would pass the disease on to.
Disease outbreaks grow when R0 exceeds 1. COVID-19′s original version had a number between 2 and 3. In the omicron variant, that number is about 8.
The recent spread of monkeypox cases is alarming, yet the virus is far less contagious than COVID-19, according to epidemiologist Jo Walker.
There can be clusters of cases, even outbreaks, but they will eventually die out on their own, they said. “It could spread between humans, but not very efficiently, and it would have to be constantly reintroduced from animal populations to persist.”
That’s one reason public health authorities, including the WHO, are confident monkeypox cases will not suddenly surge. Van Kerkhove said Monday that the situation is containable.