Also women, teenagers and children infected with monkeypox: how contagious is it?

How contagious is the monkeypox virus? And do aerosols play a role, as in the corona crisis? Scientists are cautious. This is what we know.

The current variant of monkeypox does not only affect (homosexual) men, but can occur in anyone: male, female, young and old. This is becoming more and more evident now that a first female patient and a minor boy have appeared among the approximately 500 cases in Belgium. Also in Germany, seven women have already been diagnosed with monkeypox, as well as two teenagers (a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old) and a child of four.

The transmission of the new monkeypox strain has somewhat surprised scientists because the transmission is different from the original virus, which is typically found in West and Central Africa and was thought to spread not easily from person to person, but from animals for animals. male.

Now it turns out that intense direct skin contact between people is how the virus spreads among us. It is new. The question is whether the virus has mutated or just accidentally ended up in an optimal network, the gay community, which is very connected.

Similarities with covid

However, monkeypox is not a homosexual disease, nor is it a typical sexually transmitted disease, such as chlamydia or syphilis, because it can also be transmitted in other ways. You can get it through friction through intense skin contact (rubbing against each other) or exchange of bodily fluids – and that includes sexual contact – which releases the contents of the vesicles and is carried to the mouth, nose or (invisible) skin wounds. So it requires more than just a handshake.

It is not yet clear why the infection occurs mainly between men and less between men and women. It is possible that it is a confluence of circumstances and that the virus only accidentally ended up in the gay community.

The layman also knows from the (still ongoing) corona pandemic that viruses can be transmitted through cough and sneeze droplets emitted by an infected person and inhaled by another. This is also the case with monkeypox when someone coughs or sneezes with a high fever or a burst blister in the mouth. However, transmission by this route is probably a much less efficient route for monkeypox virus. Researchers are still investigating how often this mode of transmission occurs.

Surface transmission (via door handle or toilet) is also a possibility. According to a WHO report, only about 0.2 percent of recent cases contracted the virus through contaminated surfaces. The risk is therefore very small, but not zero. As with covid, first touch a contaminated surface with enough infectious virus particles and then immediately touch your own eyes, nose, mouth or any skin wounds.

In reality, the chances of that happening are very slim. So you don’t have to disinfect every chair you sit on. Reducing (bed) partners is a much more effective measure. Very occasionally, the infection can occur by using the same sheets or towels from an infected person for a long time, because the virus survives longer on porous materials, allowing it to penetrate mucous membranes or into wounds and tears in the skin.

Source: WHO
The role of aerosols

There is some discussion among researchers about transmission via liquid droplets in the air, such as with corona. The role of aerosols was greatly underestimated at the beginning of the corona crisis, but that view had to be adjusted later. Aerosols were even found to be the engine behind the pandemic. Therefore, the researchers do not dare to rule out this scenario. They warn that there is a small chance that the virus will also spread through the air.

In a pre-print survey of the hospital rooms of monkeypox patients admitted in the UK, the virus was found to be in the air, particularly when beds were changed. It is a possible indication that the virus is present in aerosols or in loose skin flakes or dust particles. The virus in the air was also contagious, laboratory tests showed.

However, this transmission route does not appear to be very efficient either. Monkey pox is not nearly as contagious as coronavirus, which is a respiratory virus.

Possible positive development in the number of infections

Meanwhile, it is possible that monkeypox is already on the decline, both in Belgium and worldwide, according to Boudewijn Catry of the health institute Sciensano. To confirm this, further tests must be carried out. ‘The coming weeks will show whether there is a stagnation or a decline.’

Three months after the beginning of the monkeypox epidemic, approximately 28,000 cases were recorded worldwide in 85 countries. In Belgium, 546 confirmed cases have already been reported. This concerns 304 cases in Flanders (56%), 187 in Brussels (34%) and 55 in Wallonia (10%). The new variant of monkeypox is also less severe. 28 people in Belgium have already been hospitalized, but none of them ended up in an intensive care unit. There are no deaths in our country. Most patients heal spontaneously after three weeks

Those infected with monkeypox virus must still remain in strict isolation until the skin lesions are completely healed, which can take up to 21 days.

Leave a Comment