Monkeypox (cont.)

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What causes monkeypox? How is monkeypox transmitted?

Monkeypox is caused by an Orthopoxvirus named monkeypox. The viruses are oval brick-shaped viruses that have a lipoprotein layer with tubules or filaments that cover the viral DNA. There are many members of this viral genus, including such species as variola (smallpox), cowpox, buffalopox, camelpox, rabbitpox, and others. Most species infect a particular animal species but occasionally may infect other mammals.

Monkeypox virus, brick-shaped negative stained virus grown in tissue cultures, visualized by electron microscopy
Figure 1: Monkeypox virus, brick-shaped negative stained virus grown in tissue cultures, visualized by electron microscopy; SOURCE: CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Inger K. Damon, and Sherif R. Zaki

Transmission of monkeypox is usually by direct contact with infected animals or possibly by eating poorly cooked meat from an infected rodent or monkey. Cutaneous or mucosal lesions on the infected animal -- especially when the human skin gets bites, scratches, or other trauma -- are a likely source for virus infection. Person-to-person transfer, probably by infected respiratory droplets, is possible but is not often documented. One study suggested that only about 8%-15% of infections were transmitted person to person among close family members.

What are risk factors for monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a relatively uncommon disease. Risk factors include animal bites and scratches from infected animals (mainly African rodents or monkeys) or from other rodents (like prairie dogs) that have had contact with African animals infected with the virus. Avoid eating any meat from such animals is advised. Recent studies have shown that several species of mammals can be infected with monkeypox, even though the species had never been associated with the virus in their normal environment. Person-to-person transfer, although infrequent, can be reduced or prevented by avoiding direct physical contact with the patient and having the patient's caregivers wear gloves and face masks.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2014

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