Is monkeypox curable?

Humans have the immune system that works on ensuring that if there is possible infection, the immune system will tackle it. The immune system helps humans to survive in many conditions to ensure humans are relatively healthy. However, when certain infections affect humans, the immune system may or may not be able to fight it for the first time. Thus, vaccines can help to build the immune system to fight against certain infections, before a person is infected. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will learn about monkeypox as one of the infections recently being brought up in the community.

Monkeypox is also known as Mpox. Mpox is a rare disease caused by infection from the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses such as variola virus. Thus, you may see similarity between monkeypox caused by monkeypox virus and smallpox systems caused by the variola virus. Even so, mpox symptoms are milder when compared to smallpox. It is also rarely a fatal disease.

Despite the fact that it is called monkeypox, the source of the disease remains unknown. The name itself might have derived from the first identified monkeys with the virus. Again, the source remains unknown as infections have already occurred in rats, mice, digs, squirrels and humans. Since May 2022, mpox transmission has been reported from countries outside the west or central Africa in which most cases of mpox were reported.

Mpox is considered as zoonosis which means it is a disease spread from animals to humans. Often so, mpox is found in places close to tropical rainforests as animals carrying the virus are concentrated in such environments. Besides that, the disease can be spread from human to human. This is especially true with close, personal skin-to-skin contact such as direct contact with mpox rash and scabs or contact with body fluid and respiratory droplets with a person with mpox. Mpox can be spread by touching objects or surfaces in contact with those with mpox such as clothing and bedding. This way of spreading is considered less likely. A person can spread mpox from the time they start to have symptoms until the rash are fully healed with the formation of a new skin layer.

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Apart from these ways of spreading diseases, a person may catch mpox if they are bitten by the infected animals. Touching their body and even the fluids from the infected animals can make a person easier to get mpox. Eating the meat of the infected animal or not well cooked meal can also be at risk for mpox infection. Infected animals are mostly in west or central Africa. Hence, those outside of Africa are unlikely to get mpox unless they have been in close contact with those who have mpox or recent travel to Africa especially the west and central part.

It usually takes between 5 to 21 days for first symptoms to occur. Symptoms include fever, intense headache, back pain, muscle ache (myalgia), joint pain (arthralgia), exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy). People with mpox often get a rash located on the face, hands, feet or around the genitals.  After the initial symptoms, rashes appears for between 1 and 5 days. The rash may be painful or itchy. Similar to smallpox, it needs to go through different stages including scabs before healing occurs. The stages are the rash to become bumps and to vesicles that contain fluid. This will then be followed by pus and finally, scabs or crusts.

The question now is, is monkeypox curable? No, it is not. Similar to many other viral diseases, treatment is focused on ensuring patients are well supported and to ease symptoms. However, there are antiviral drugs that have been used to treat mpox such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) but often so only be used in severe cases or those expected to get severely sick from the infection. This antiviral works by reducing the amount of virus in the body. Fortunately, mpox is often considered as mild and most people do recover within weeks even without treatment. Symptoms can be severe in those vulnerable such as young children, the elderly and those with immunocompromised conditions. Thus, these groups of people may need hospitalisation and treatment in a healthcare facility instead.

Mpox infections resulting from infected animals need to be taken well by avoiding contact with sick or dead animals. Plus, it is important to ensure that all food containing animal meat or parts are cooked properly before eating. Those who already diagnosed with mpox or suspected themselves with mpox should avoid close contact with others and isolate at home until the rash has subsided. Those who take care of the sick or themselves are sick with monkeypox need to practise good hand hygiene. On the bright side, you can actually prevent yourself from mpox by ensuring vaccination against smallpox as it shows 85% effectiveness in protecting against monkeypox.