Monkeypox is a viral disease that mainly prevails in West and Central Africa. The disease mainly affects rodents, but may also be transmitted from these animals to humans. Occasionally, an infected person may travel from Africa to Europe. The symptoms of the disease are usually mild.
Recently (May 2022) the disease was also diagnosed in people in Europe, who had not been to Africa. This means they were infected in Europe and that the disease is spreading here. Many of the people who tested positive for the disease are men who were infected through sexual intercourse with other men. Transmission of the virus is, however, not limited to this group.
Research is currently underway to assess how the virus is transmitted and which groups are at risk. The variant which is currently found in Europe is usually not highly contagious, but much is still unclear as to how the disease was transmitted to those who are currently ill. The number of infected people in Europe and the Netherlands is expected to rise.
The symptoms of monkeypox are generally quite mild and patients almost always recover within 2-4 weeks. The symptoms usually present themselves 6-16 days after infection (referred to as the incubation period). The disease often (but not always) begins with flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, aching muscles, swollen lymph nodes, shivers and/or fatigue. After 1-3 days, patients develop a rash, which starts with blotches that eventually become blisters. The rash mostly affects the face first and then spreads to the rest of the body. After the blisters have dried out, scabs develop and eventually detach from the skin after 2-3 weeks.
Monkeypox infection and measures
Most people are infected through contact with a person or animal infected with the virus. The virus gains access to the body through the mucous membranes in the mouth, nose and eyes, but also through sexual contact or open wounds. The virus is transmitted by droplets from blisters or through the mouth and throat. This is why people are advised to maintain a safe distance from people who are diagnosed with the disease. Monkeypox is not easily transmitted without close contact.
When is the disease transmissible?
People infected with the monkeypox virus can transmit the disease to others from the moment that general disease symptoms (e.g. fever above 38.5˚C) present themselves, or two days before the rash has presented itself. The virus is transmissible until the blisters and/or wounds have dried out.
No national measures have been announced for the Netherlands, nor are they likely to be. If you develop monkeypox-like symptoms, contact your general practitioner. You should also contact your GP or the outpatient clinic for sexually transmitted diseases (“soa-poli” in Dutch) if you have been in close contact with an infected person in the past three weeks. Keep a safe distance from people who have been diagnosed with monkeypox.
If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, the doctor is obliged to report this to the municipal health authorities (GGD), who then conduct further research and decide what other steps are required (e.g. quarantine or isolation) for the patient and their close contacts.
A monkeypox vaccine exists, which is only used for the contacts of infected persons.