Monkeypox spreading in Spain and could be airborne

Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden and the UK all have outbreaks of Monkeypox, which seems to be spreading at an unusual pace. America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expressed concern and suggested that undetected transmission of the virus is occurring in the US, one case indeed having already been confirmed in Boston. Monkeypox is rarely fatal, less than 10% of cases result in severe disease, with fatalities more common among children, but it’s extremely uncomfortable, disturbing and distressing, and as an apparently “unusual” strain, its specific potential effects still need to be studied.

What’s triggering particular concern in the CDC among others is how this condition, usually very rare outside west and central Africa, has surged, with seven cases confirmed and another suspected in the UK, for example, in just the first fortnight of this month. It suggests something odd about the outbreak and public health specialists and environmentalists are trying to work out what it could be. Inevitably they are considering possible connections with covid or long covid, but whether or not there’s a direct relationship with covid, it is a known condition in its own right and is now confirmed in Spain: one suspected case indeed is currently in Gran Canaria, and the presently sole Italian case is a patient recently returned from these islands.

Professor of Primary Care at Oxford University and Independent SAGE member Trisha Greenhalgh, one of the very first experts to assert that covid itself was airborne, has said that there is an increasing view in her field that Monkeypox too is airborne. Its symptoms are milder than but similar to smallpox, itself now eradicated thanks to vaccines, but those vaccines are still effective against Monkeypox, at least in terms of limiting spread. Monkeypox symptoms are flu-like, and there is a very distinctive rash often differing from most other rashes by vesicles (fluid-filled blister-like cell swellings) on the palms of the hands.

Renowned global health expert and epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding who co-founded the World Health Network says that Spain currently has eight suspected cases and counting. Around 50 patients have been treated for suspected Monkeypox in Madrid in the last two days alone, and hospital sources say that “the flow of patients to A&E has not stopped”. Feigl-Ding is one who considers it “highly possible” that Monkeypox is airborne, and says that the risk is elevated for pregnant women because it can harm foetuses.

Greenhalgh herself says that given these factors, masks should continue to be worn, and that will also help in the continuing covid outbreak which is certainly not over, despite claims to the contrary by the UK Government. I can hear already in my mind the howls of fury and mockery from the usual quarters but while this is unusual and frightening, it’s confirmed, occurring, and reporting and advising about it is not “scaremongering”. Greenhalgh says “Keep the masks”; she has no time for the usual assortment of conspiracy theorists, antimaskers and associated tinfoilers who insist it’s not real and all about “control”.

Diagnosis of Monkeypox requires specialist laboratory testing, and could be confused with chickenpox. Best advice if anyone is in any doubt that they could have this is to go to a doctor as soon as possible, and as Prof Greenhalgh says, “keep the mask”.