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Monkeypox: Portugal reports cases as outbreak spreads

Portuguese officials have confirmed five cases of the monkeypox disease. The viral infection, rarely found in Europe, has also been reported in Spain and the United Kingdom.

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak

Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes milder illness

Health officials in Portugal said on Wednesday they had confirmed five cases of monkeypox in young men, and authorities in the US state of Massachusetts said a case had been detected there in a man who had recently traveled to Canada.

Another 15 suspected cases in the area around the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, were also being investigated, said Portugal's General Directorate for Health. 

The United Kingdom and Spain have also been looking into suspected cases of the viral infection, marking an unusual outbreak in Europe of a disease typically only found in Africa. 

What do we know about monkeypox cases in Europe?

Portuguese authorities said all recorded cases mostly involve young men. Officials did not disclose whether they had recently been to African countries or had links with recent cases in the United Kingdom. 

The UK has so far reported seven cases since May 7. The people involved in four of those cases apparently identified as
gay or bisexual, the UK Health Security Agency has said, suggesting there may be transmission in the community. 

On Wednesday, Spanish authorities said they were investigating 23 possible cases, noting that all of them were in young men.

There is no scientific evidence suggesting the disease is transmittable through sex. Experts have said the infections could have occurred during the close physical contact involved in sex.

What is monkeypox? 

The viral infection is similar to smallpox but milder. Its symptoms include fever and a distinctive bumpy rash that normally starts on the face and then moves to other parts of the body.

Human infection with monkeypox-like virus in 4 year-old female in Bondua, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia

In more severe cases of monkeypox, a rash that resembles those seen in chickenpox and smallpox can develop

Most people recover from monkeypox within several weeks.

Transmission is typically through close contact with infected animals or people, though the latter is less common. 

The disease was first recorded in the 1970s in Congo. The number of monkeypox infections has increased in West Africa in the last decade, however, in a milder strain.

The strain found in West Africa has a fatality rate of around 1% of cases. It is reportedly the same strain that has been reported in the UK. 

In 1980, smallpox was eradicated by vaccination, and the jab has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and pulling back the vaccination campaigns may have contributed to the spread of monkeypox cases.

Watch video 02:04

A history of vaccination

fb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)