Mpox is a zoonosis, i.e. a disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. The virus can also be transmitted between humans. It was first discovered in wild monkeys, and was therefore named monkeypox, but the virus has most likely spread through various rodents in central and western Africa.
How does mpox spread?
Mpox is caused by monkeypox virus, a species of the Orthopoxvirus. The disease is mainly transmitted through close physical contact with an infected person. Sexual contacts, or other close skin-to-skin contacts with an infected person pose a particularly high risk. In 2022, mpox spread to a greater extent outside Africa for the first time, in a global outbreak of more than 80,000 cases. The outbreak mainly involved men who have sex with men (MSM) and the disease was mainly spread through sexual contacts. There have also been a small number of cases of indirect spread of the disease, e.g. through bedding, towels, sex toys etc. that an infected person has been in contact with. It is likely that the virus can spread through the airways, damaged skin (even if not visible), mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), or semen and vaginal secretions. But all potential routes of transmission are yet to be determined. The time between getting infected and developing symptoms (the incubation period) is usually 6–13 days but can vary between 5 and 21 days.
Symptoms and complications
The following symptoms are common:
- blisters or a rash on the torso, arms, legs, hands, and feet
- blisters or a rash on the face and in and around the mouth
- blisters or a rash on and around the genitals, and around the anus
- problems with stools, such as diarrhoea, and difficulty urinating
- headache and muscle pain
- swollen lymph nodes
- pain around the anus and in the rectum
- feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen and in the pelvis.
The disease can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, but usually heals by itself within two to four weeks. Adults rarely get seriously ill. Some people have had difficulty eating due to painful blisters in the mouth and have therefore been hospitalised. In rare cases, the disease can lead to complications and in exceptional cases cause death.
Younger children, those who are pregnant, and people with impaired immune systems are considered to be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they are infected with the monkeypox virus.
Diagnostics and treatment
Suspicions of mpox may arise from the symptoms and if the person has been exposed to risk of being infected. The diagnosis is then confirmed by either detecting the genome of the virus in a laboratory analysis (molecular biological analysis with PCR).
There are medicines that appear to have some effect on the infection and that can be used in cases of serious illness. Due to the increasing spread of mpox globally, several initiatives have been taken to increase the possibilities for treatment.
General preventive measures
It is possible to prevent infection by avoiding close contact with infected people. Having many sexual contacts poses a particularly high risk of infection.
There is a vaccine against mpox, but since the available doses are limited, people who have been, or are at risk of being exposed to the virus, are prioritised.
The available vaccine is not considered to be enough to stop the spread of the virus. Other measures must be taken and be followed to stop the spread of the disease.
Measures in the event of cases or outbreaks
If you experience symptoms of mpox, it is important to contact health care to get an assessment and possibly a test
Mpox is a disease that is subject to mandatory contact tracing and is dangerous to public health according to the Swedish Communicable Diseases Act. All cases of infection with mpox should be reported to the county medical officer in the region and to the Public Health Agency of Sweden.