The Pox is On Us

Shilo Zylbergold | Best Medicine
The Pox is On Us

image by: genebrooks

For a virologist, this transmission is worth study, and it’ll probably teach us a few new things about monkeypox. But for the average person, on a worry meter from 0 to 10, it’s probably below a 1 - Grant McFadden PhD, Arizona State University

Monkey pox. What is it?

Let’s first say what it isn’t. No, it’s not the latest video game on the market where you have to navigate your avatar to the top of a tree while it is being attacked by alien viruses. It is also not just the latest incarnation of yet another sequel of the Planet of the Apes franchise.

Monkey pox is not a type of high traction all-weather tire that will allow you to 4x4 your way into the back country. Nor is it a grunge garage rock band from Seattle that destroys its instruments at the end of every gig.

No, monkey pox is not some hipster’s vision of a cottage craft brewery lager made from politically correct grains and it definitely is not a potent cocktail featuring copious quantities of vodka or tequila that will put hair on your chest.

Okay, now we know what it isn’t; what then is monkey pox? Would you believe that it is yet another infectious virus circling the planet?

I know what you’re thinking. Just what we needed; another global pandemic right on the heels of Covid-19. Here we were believing that we could finally stop self-isolating and take our lives back off hold, and along comes this new menace. In fact, there’s a good possibility that monkey pox is spreading right now as you are reading this blog.

Monkey pox is actually a distant relative of the smallpox virus. Think of it as a long-lost, good-for-nothing nephew who has returned from nowhere, is now couch-surfing in your living room, and won’t leave.

You remember smallpox, don’t you? Although it was declared officially eradicated in 1980, it had been the cause of death and disease among humans for over two thousand years. Archaeologists have discovered traces of the virus in pustules found on the head of mummified Pharaoh Ramses V in the 3rd century B.C. The virus wreaked its havoc throughout the globe to the tune of a thirty per cent mortality rate and left survivors severely scarred and disfigured and often blind. By the 6th century it had made inroads into Japan and was eventually introduced to the New World by explorers, prospectors, and settlers, where it had devastating effects on indigenous inhabitants who had no immune response to the disease. It is estimated that smallpox has killed as many as 500 million globally in its last century of existence.

The good news is that monkey pox is less deadly and not nearly as transmissible as smallpox. Unlike Covid, which spreads quickly and easily through aerosol droplets floating in the air, monkey pox needs close personal contact for transmission from one human to another. Although it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD), all behaviours requiring physical proximity, such as kissing, dancing, foreplay, etc. can aid in its spread throughout a population. In my opinion, that makes it like an STD on steroids.

The bad news is that cases of monkey pox are turning up in geographic regions never before affected by the virus. Although first detected in lab monkeys in 1958, up until very recently the disease had remained endemic to areas in west and central Africa. Actually, tagging the virus with the name “monkey” is probably a disservice to all primates because, most likely, the virus has been carried and spread by way of the rodent population.

Although considered a rare but potentially serious disease, monkey pox has managed to avoid media attention even though it has occasionally spilled over into humans. What is most concerning about the present outbreak though is that it is infecting people in North America and Europe who have not travelled to the endemic regions in Africa, nor been in contact with anyone who has. This means that the virus has now established itself in different areas around the globe and can be passed from human to human without ever being traced back to those regions in Africa to where it had previously been endemic. Indeed, cases of monkey pox have been confirmed in Sweden, Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, Canada, Portugal, Spain, U.K., U.S., and Australia, with probably more countries being added to the list as you read your way through this article. This here’s one virus that loves to travel!

What does monkey pox do to you? Does it give you a sudden overwhelming craving for bananas? Will you find yourself getting an irresistible urge to swing from the nearest vine? No, if you are experiencing either of these symptoms, you probably have more serious problems to worry about than something affecting your physical body.

However, if you have indeed been exposed to monkey pox and have become infected, you can expect the incubation period to last between 5 to 21 days from the time of infection to when you begin to show signs of the disease. The early symptoms are flu-like and may include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Of course, these sound like the pains and aches you get from just about every illness and syndrome under the sun, so you really can’t tell from all these ailments whether you have contracted monkey pox or not. The real telltale signs occur when you later develop a rash which comes in the form of pimples or blisters on the face and inside of the mouth. These spread to other parts of the body which may include hands, feet, chest, genitals, and anus. Although the virus has a relatively low mortality rate, it may take weeks for you to heal and the blisters to disappear.

So what have we learned about the latest virus to sweep across the globe? Unfortunately, there’s still so much we don’t know and there’s no telling how long it will take before we can knock this particular monkey off our backs. As of right now, it doesn’t seem like monkey pox is as dangerous as Covid and its numerous subvariants have shown to be. There are also encouraging signs that an effective vaccine is on the immediate horizon. What is still in question is whether unpredictable mutations of the virus are just around the corner and is it possible that whatever monkey pox morphs into will make us look back at the days of Covid with fond nostalgia.

We all hope otherwise and hold our collective breath that the way out of this viral dilemma is not a slippery slope lined with banana peels.

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