The Karnataka government is on guard after the state had its first monkeypox scare last week. According to news agency ANI, an Ethiopian national with symptoms was quarantined in a private hospital in Bengaluru on Saturday. He was later found to have chickenpox instead.
In the light of this scare, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai convened a meeting Monday to discuss a plan to curb the spread of the virus. There are now eight confirmed cases, with three reported today. India reported its first death from the monkeypox virus on July 30 from Kerala.
Hindustan Times spoke to Bengaluru-based Dr Gaurav Sharma, a general physician and cardiologist with over 19 years experience in medical research and new medicine development, about the virus, how to treat it, prevention, symptoms, dos and don’ts, and many more. Here are some excerpts:
Q) What is monkeypox and what are the first few symptoms?
A) It is a viral infection similar to smallpox, which transmits person to person by close contact. It starts with fever, headache and severe tiredness. After two to three days, the affected person can get rashes – which bears similarity to smallpox or chickenpox rashes – that can rupture.
Q) What are some of the treatment options?
A) Monkeypox is a self-resolving or self-limiting illness that usually lasts for two to four weeks. So basically the infection will resolve on its own, depending on how good a person’s immune system is. Healthcare professionals are treating patients on a symptomatic basis right now. However we have to use specific medications, whether it is antiviral or antibiotic, when the immune system cannot curb the severity or spread of the infections.
Therefore, an antiviral medication is being used for monkeypox as well. It is used in smallpox cases in some countries and is still an investigational drug. It is called tekovirimat, but again, the availability of the drug is not so stable because it is still under investigation. So the treatment remains symptomatic.
Q) What is the difference between monkeypox and chickenpox/smallpox?
A) The main difference is the pattern of fever and rashes and, more importantly, we need to differentiate by seeing if any lymph nodes develop in the infected person. Lymph node eruption is known to happen in cases of monkeypox. So that is one clinical criteria. Further confirmation (will depend) upon laboratory investigation.
Q) What is ‘hand foot mouth’ disease that can be confused with monkeypox?
A) ‘Hand foot mouth’ disease is usually seen in children but it can be transmitted to adults too. The infection is also associated with fever, body pain, headache and chills. Typically, there are certain rashes which will develop near the mouth, the palm of the hand and the sole of the foot.
But the lesions do not rupture or crust, and there is no secretion. So an experienced physician can differentiate it from monkeypox.
Q) What age groups are most prone to monkeypox?
A) The infection will largely infect immuno-compromised people… will largely infect individuals at two extremes – children and elderly people. The primary reason is the immune system in children is still in a development stage and, in elderly people, it is in decline.
People with severe medical conditions will be more vulnerable because their immune system and health status is already compromised. Those having simultaneous other infections, for example people in ICU having pneumonia or other medical conditions, will also be vulnerable.
What to do:
- Do not come in contact with persons showing symptoms – fever and rashes – even if they are healthcare workers or family members. They must take adequate precautions to not directly touch the skin lesions or this can cause transmission.
- Take social distancing precautions if anybody you know has a fever with rashes.
- Any person suspected to have the infection should visit a physician immediately because misdiagnosis can be a threat. As India goes through the monsoon season, there are a number of diseases that have similar first symptoms, including chickenpox or scabies or even allergies.
- Self-quarantine if you suspect you have contracted monkeypox.
- On receiving a positive diagnosis, inform health and government officials at the earliest so persons who came in contact with the infected individual can be swiftly isolated.
What not to do:
- Any animal that seems infected or has a disease should not be used for meat consumption.
- Do not try to self-diagnose because it is easy to confuse other diseases for monkeypox. In rainy seasons, there are several other diseases that cause rashes.