May 20, 2022 07:36 UTC
  • Europe, US on alert after rare monkeypox virus outbreak

With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, a new health scare in the form of a rare viral infection of monkeypox has emerged in Europe and the US, putting health authorities on high alert.

The outbreak is small — so far 68 suspected cases, including 8 in England and 20 in Portugal, have been identified – but the transmission ways of the virus are still shrouded in mystery.

Health authorities in the UK have little clue where people contracted the virus, amid growing concern the virus may be spreading through the community, possibly through a new route of transmission.

The rare viral disease was first reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s.

Apart from the UK and Portugal, Spain said it was testing 23 potential cases, Canada reported 13 suspected cases of the virus, Sweden confirmed one case on Thursday, Australia has also found a "probable" case while the US state of Massachusetts announced it had found a case in a man who recently traveled to Canada.

"This [outbreak] is rare and unusual," epidemiologist Susan Hopkins, who's the chief medical adviser of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said in a statement on Monday.

"Exactly where and how they [the people] acquired their infections remains under urgent investigation," the agency said in the statement.

Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was quoted as saying that it was "highly unusual".

"Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year," he said.

Monkeypox causes fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes, and eventually "pox," or painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands, and feet, according to medical experts.

Most people recover from the illness, which is endemic in parts of central and western Africa and usually the result of close contact with infected animals, within a few weeks, but it can be fatal.