Monkeypox virus: symptoms, transmission, and treatment

Concerns about a new pandemic are growing after the first cases of monkeypox virus have been reported in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) provide answers to the most important questions about the monkeypox virus. We have collected the most important information for you:

What is the monkeypox virus?

Monkeypox virus is a viral disease in monkeys related to eradicated smallpox (Variola major). The monkeypox virus is a zoonotic disease: like the coronavirus, the pathogen is transmitted from animals to humans. Monkeypox causes a mild smallpox-like disease in humans. According to the BMBF, every tenth untreated disease ends in death. When it spreads to Europe, the West African type of virus is transmitted. Experts rate its lethality lower than in previous sporadic outbreaks in Central and West Africa. “According to current knowledge, a health risk for the general population in Germany is rated as low,” according to the RKI.

Signs of the monkeypox virus

The incubation period for the smallpox virus is between seven and 21 days. According to the RKI, the following symptoms can occur in case of monkeypox infection:

  • Fever
  • Headache, muscles and back
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Rash, so-called skin efflorescences (skin blooms), which first appear on the face and then spread to other parts of the body. As the RKI knows from current cases, the skin change can initially spread to the urogenital area.

As reported by the Robert Koch Institute, person-to-person transmission is rare and possible only in close contact, for example through contact with body fluids and scabs such as scab or in the context of sexual contact. Transmission via excreted respiratory secretions is also possible. Likewise via smear infections, for example via clothes, sheets or towels.

Treatment of monkeypox

The course of the disease is mild compared to human smallpox. Those affected usually recover within several weeks. A drug containing the antiviral agent tecovirimat was recently approved for the treatment of monkeypox. In order to best prevent the spread, isolation and quarantine of infected persons can be considered as potential measures: a decision on this by the Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach is still pending.

A general smallpox vaccination protects against infection with the monkeypox virus. However, vaccination was mandatory in West Germany until 1975 and until 1982 in East Germany. As reported by, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, president of the World Medical Association, argued that younger generations should receive a vaccination for the smallpox.

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