We have experienced our first full-on global pandemic, so people are prone to panic or to pass along false information when a new infectious disease pops up. Let’s not panic about monkeypox but make sure we are informed.
The world is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of the disease known as monkeypox outside of the countries where it regularly circulates. Beginning in May 2022, monkeypox cases have been identified in countries where it is not typically found.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they know of more than 25,864 cases identified since May outside of the West and Central African countries where monkeypox is endemic. The cases—many of which have no known links to travel to these regions—have been found in at least 76 countries that have not historically reported monkeypox, including Australia, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.
As of August 4th, Alberta Health Services says there are 16 confirmed isolated cases in Alberta. The risk of infection to the public is currently low.
The current outbreak is unique because this illness is related to smallpox, which we thought we had eradicated, and though not as contagious or deadly, it has never spread this widely.
Is Monkeypox a New Disease?
No, we’ve known about it for decades. The virus was first identified in 1958 in Denmark, in monkeys imported from Singapore, according to Daniel Lucey, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H., who spoke at a June 1 briefing by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) on monkeypox. While the virus was first identified in monkeys, hence its name, experts think the host species it came from initially is most likely some rodent. There are two known monkeypox strains, one found in West Africa (less severe disease) and the other in Central Africa (more severe disease), with Cameroon the only country known to have both.
The first human case was documented in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a period of increased surveillance because of ongoing efforts to eliminate smallpox.
What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox, and How Does It Spread?
A monkeypox infection generally begins with typical viral symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin, on one or both sides of the body. That swelling is one of the main differences between the initial symptoms of monkeypox and smallpox. These symptoms usually occur within seven to 14 days of exposure.
A day to a few days after the first symptoms, a rash appears that may start on the face (according to the CDC) though it can occur in other places. Unlike most viral infections, it can cause lesions on the palms of hands and soles of feet. And while it can cause lesions to appear all over the body, those lesions may occur in only a small concentrated area.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection but can be spread through close physical contact with its signature lesions. Intimate physical contact could spread the virus, which seems to have spread through a population sector.
Monkeypox does not spread easily between people but can spread via close contact, not casual contact like walking by someone. Close contact would include coming in direct contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or items recently contaminated with fluid/sores from an infected person (clothes, bedding). So anyone who handles bedding or clothing that touched the rash—could be vulnerable and should take extra caution.
It’s also possible that people could spread the virus through droplets in a cough if they have lesions in their mouth or throat, though monkeypox isn’t a respiratory virus like COVID-19 or the common cold. The infected individual should wear a mask to reduce contamination around them.
Is There a Monkeypox Treatment?
Yes, a minimal supply of an antiviral drug is available for severe cases that AHS is reserving for after specialist consultation.
Is There a Monkeypox Vaccine?
Yes. Because monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, a vaccine, Imvamune®, is available to Albertans and is labelled for Smallpox and Monkeypox.
Again, a limited amount of the vaccine, providing some protection against monkeypox. If given shortly after exposure to monkeypox, it may prevent infection or reduce the severity of illness if the condition does occur.
Alberta residents 18 years and older are eligible for the monkeypox vaccine if they meet the current criteria. For more information on vaccine eligibility and testing availability, contact 811 or visit: