Monkeypox and Covid-19: Expert shares differences

With monkeypox cases being reported in more than 20 countries, people are worried about its spread and transmission, especially amid Covid-19 conditions. Hence, to stay safe, experts advise caution and adoption of preventive strategies.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), monkeypox spreads differently from Covid-19. “WHO encourages people to stay informed from reliable sources, such as national health authorities, on the extent of the outbreak in their community (if any), symptoms and prevention,” it states in a statement issued on its website.

Monkeypox and Covid-19

Monkeypox is not a new illness, said Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, consulting chest physician, MD Chest and Tuberculosis, Masina Hospital, Mumbai. “It was first reported in 1958, and is supposed to be similar to smallpox, but is a milder form. It is also caused by a virus — like Covid-19 — but the two are not remotely related.

monkeypox Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rashes and lesions on the face or genitals. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Coronaviruses normally contain a single strand of genetic material called RNA, and the monkeypox virus carries its genetic code in the DNA, which is double-stranded. That is the first major difference. Also, the monkeypox virus is much larger than the one that causes Covid-19, and it produces proteins that disrupt the defenses in the human immune system. It has been found in studies that they look like little bricks,” he told indianexpress.com.

Does monkeypox spread through monkeys?

Discovered in colonies of monkeys in 1958, the virus is normally seen in African countries, even though monkeys aren’t likely to be the source. It is mainly spread through rodents like squirrels, said Dr Ladhani, stressing that people can spread it to one another through contact with “body fluids or bites of infected rodents, and squirrels, or if a person comes in contact with the body fluid or legions on the skin or the mucosal surfaces such as the cheeks in the mouth”.

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It is also speculated that the disease is also sexually transmitted among men who are sexually active with the same gender. However, Dr Ladhani said, “It is not generally considered to be a route of transmission, but that is what is being speculated in the wake of the rising cases.”

Symptoms

Monkeypox presents flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, but the one symptom that differentiates it from Covid-19 is the presence of rash and swelling of the lymph nodes which develops after one or three days. These rashes begin as flat lesions which then become filled with pus; they could become scabs and dry out in two to four weeks. So, incubation period can be around seven to 15 days and the symptoms are self-limiting and can last from anywhere between two to four weeks. The fatality rate known is around 10 per cent, according to the WHO. “In case of Covid, the symptoms are more flu-like, like fever, headache, and runny nose. And if not contained, it can lead to breathlessness, loss of taste, and loss of smell.” he said.

While monkeypox too has flu-like symptoms, it is more of fever, headache, body aches with lymph node enlargement and the rashes and the skin lesions, as described.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis of monkeypox is specifically through microscopy, said Dr Ladhani. In two to three weeks, the person may recover.

“This disease can be easily contained and giving vaccination to the whole population at this point in time may not be necessarily unlike Covid-19. The treatment is mainly supportive and symptomatic, however, the person has to be isolated for two to three weeks, and they normally recover by themselves,” Dr Ladhani mentioned.

covid-19 A healthcare worker collects the swab sample for Covid-19 test. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

Is a community spread possible?

While monkeypox is also spread by coughing, according to Dr Ladhani, the droplets are very large compared to Covid-19 where they are very small and spread only within a few feet. “So, these particles do not spread very far. As such, for a person to spread it, there has to be a prolonged contact. However, it is nothing like Covid-19 where a short contact or a small duration of contact can also spread it. So it’s very unlikely, that people who suffer from monkeypox pass it on to a large number of people, who can pass it on further,” he explained.

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