The warning comes as 23 suspected cases of the virus have been detected in Spain in recent days and come just days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of more cases of the disease being found in Portugal and the UK.
Seven cases have so far been detected in the UK, five in Portugal, with 20 more suspected.
So what is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral disease that is endemic to West and Central Africa and is similar to smallpox which has been eradicated. The disease is carried by monkeys and can be transmitted to humans through contact with an infected animal.
Transmission between humans mostly occurs through large respiratory droplets. The droplets cannot travel far, so prolonged periods of face to face contact is needed, in order for the virus to spread.
Symptoms to look out for
Symptoms are similar to Smallpox but are to some degree milder. They include Fever, headache, exhaustion, muscle aches, back pain, chills and swelling of the lymph nodes.
If infected, a person will develop a rash within one to three days. It often begins on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, including the genitals.
The rash changes and goes through different stages. It can resemble chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab which later falls off.
Although most monkeypox cases aren’t serious, studies have shown that in Africa, one in ten people who contract the disease die from it.
The Spanish Health Ministry is advising people to be alert but points out that, at this moment in time the virus isn’t a cause for concern. However, any disease that is passed on from an animal to a human, does have the potential to cause a new pandemic, not something any of us want to hear after two years of dealing with Covid-19.
Monkeypox doesn’t have a specific treatment or vaccination but the human smallpox vaccine does give immunity to monkeypox sufferers and can also serve as a treatment if it is administered soon after exposure to the virus.
It was Madrid’s General Directorate of Public Health that initially sounded the alarm after identifying these cases that “are currently under study in coordination with Spain’s National Centre of Microbiology, which has the necessary techniques to confirm or rule out the diagnosis”.
“It’s unlikely that there will be a lot of transmission, but we can’t rule it out,” Spain’s health emergencies director Fernando Simón told journalists on Wednesday.
“It spreads from monkeys to humans, since there is very little transmission between people.
“Until a few years ago outbreaks did not lead to more than a second generation of transmission, but in recent times up to third and fourth generations have been detected”.
The WHO reported that “On May 7th 2022, WHO was informed of a confirmed case of monkeypox in an individual who travelled from the United Kingdom to Nigeria and subsequently returned to the United Kingdom.
“Since the case was immediately isolated and contact tracing was performed, the risk of onward transmission related to this case in the United Kingdom is minimal.
“However, as the source of infection in Nigeria is not known, there remains a risk of ongoing transmission in this country.”
The seven cases the UK have reported have all been men who have had sexual relations with men, although there was no epidemiological link between them, which points to the existence of different chains of infection.
Susan Hopkins, an advisor to the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) explained “We believe there could be community transmission of this illness and we are urging homosexual and bisexual men in particular to look out for any unusual rashes or lesions and get in touch with a sexual health service without delay.”
The agency does however point out that “the virus does not spread between people easily and the risk for the UK population is low”.
The illness was discovered back in 1958 when two outbreaks were detected in colonies of monkeys that were kept for research purposes. The first case in humans however was noted in August 1970 in Bokenda, a remote village in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first infections occurred through contact with infected animals and then between humans. Transmission occurred through respiratory secretions, saliva, contact with an oozing scab or wound and also through faeces.
Experts say that it isn’t t solely transmitted through homosexual relations because anyone who comes into contact with infected fluids can catch it. They also point out that the type that is causing the outbreaks in Europe is milder than the one in central Africa, which is potentially more threatening.
Imaged Credit: WHO