Monkeypox: everything you need to know to travel safely this summer
After two years of restrictions, infections and yo-yo borders, the last thing anyone wants is another public health crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will meet next week to determine whether monkeypox – a worrying infection that occurs in dozens of countries – is a “global health emergency of international concern”.
Around 1,800 people have contracted the virus since April this year, with Europe accounting for 85% of these cases.
As the mainland prepares for a bumper tourist summer, officials have insisted massive events could accelerate the spread.
“Monkeypox will be opportunistic in its fight for survival, and its spread will depend on the conditions offered to it,” warned Dr Hans Kluge, European Director of the WHO.
Here’s what the new virus will mean for your summer holidays – and how to protect yourself while travelling.
What is monkeypox and how dangerous is it?
Monkeypox is a rare viral disease of the smallpox family. It is ‘zoonotic’, which means it originally spread to humans from animals.
Prior to the current outbreak, most infections occurred in tropical regions of central and western African countries such as Nigeria, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. Until recently – and with the exception of a small outbreak in the United States in 2003 – the virus had never been reported outside of endemic countries.
There are two main variants of the virus: the milder West African strain (currently circulating) and the more severe Central African strain. The milder variant has a mortality rate of between 1% and 3.6%, but usually clears up on its own without causing serious illness.
There is no vaccine against monkeypox, but a vaccine against smallpox offers an 85% protection rate against new virus. Most people are not inoculated against smallpox, as it has been wiped out from the community – but many countries have purchased additional supplies of the vaccine in anticipation of further cases of monkeypox.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, headache, chills and exhaustion.
The most obvious symptom – a chickenpox-like rash that spreads throughout the body – occurs soon after.
Anyone who discovers an unusual rash or lesion on any part of their body should consult Medical advice.
How is monkeypox spread?
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is not airborne. Instead, it spreads through close contact with an infected person. The virus can enter the body through broken skin or through the eyes, nose, or mouth, and persist on materials like clothing or bedding.
Most cases in the current outbreak have been sexually transmitted.
“So far in Europe, the majority – but not all – of reported patients have been men who have sex with men. Many – but not all – patients report multiple and sometimes anonymous sexual partners,” explains the Dr. Kluge.
“But – and this is important – we must remember that the monkeypox virus is not in itself attached to any specific group. Stigmatizing certain populations undermines the public health response.
You can also catch monkeypox if you are bitten or eat the flesh of an infected animal. Despite its name, the virus is more common in squirrels and rodents than in monkeys.
Will monkeypox disrupt travel?
The WHO warns that summer events – such as music festivals, pride events and “spontaneous” events tourist gatherings‘ – could accelerate the spread of the virus.
The risk is increased when sexually active young people gather in large numbers. In May, the Spanish “Gran Canaria pride festival” attended by 80,000 people spawned several cases.
However, that is no reason for cancel these events, Dr. Kluge insists. Instead, organizers should use them to raise awareness of the disease.
“Closing a venue or canceling an event does not reduce sexual contact, but rather shifts activity to other settings, including private parties, which are less accessible to community or public health interventions. “, he continues.
At this point monkeypox is unlikely to cause mass cancellations or border closures.
However, your travel plans could be disrupted if you catch the virus while travelling, as the WHO recommends self-isolating until symptoms have completely subsided.
Some countries – such as Belgium – have imposed a 21-day quarantine for positive cases.
How to avoid catching monkeypox while travelling?
At this time, there is no reason to cancel your summer plans. The risk of widespread infection is low, says the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
But there are ways to minimize the risk of getting sick. Practicing good hygiene and safer sex are the two most effective ways to do this.
Whereas traveling, staying clean and being careful of the people you come into close contact with will reduce your risk of getting sick. The WHO recommends washing your hands regularly, using hand sanitizer and avoiding large crowds where possible.
Although not all countries have published travel guidelines Regarding monkeypox, the American Center for Disease Control advises travelers to exercise caution around animals as well.
“Do not touch live or dead wild animals. Do not touch or eat wildlife products. Avoid touching materials, such as bedding, that have been used by animals,” the advice says.