After all the agony, tragedy, and disruption caused by COVID-19 over the past couple of years, the last thing the world needs is another worrying viral disease outbreak to contend with.
So understandably, news of rising cases of monkeypox has been met with a fair amount of concern. Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox isn’t a ‘novel’ or new disease. It’s been identified in humans for the past 50 years or so, but has up until now been mostly confined to remote regions of West and Central Africa, and is classed as rare.
What has caused the current consternation is a sudden outbreak of around 1,800 cases, mostly in Europe. It’s enough of a deviation from the norm for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be considering declaring it a global health emergency – not quite an epidemic or pandemic, but on that path.
That’s the sort of news that is bound to cause some jitters among travellers, given all the uncertainty and disruption COVID-19 caused. Of course, millions of people move around Europe throughout the summer months going on holiday. This creates a significant risk of spreading the virus further still – and raises the question of whether individuals are at risk.
So what should you know about monkeypox before you go on holiday this year? How much of a risk does it pose, how dangerous is it if you catch it, and how can you protect yourself?
How dangerous is monkeypox?
The fact that monkeypox is related to smallpox is cause for alarm in itself, seeing as the latter was rated as one of history’s most devastating diseases until it was eradicated by vaccination programmed last century.
But the good news is, that monkeypox is nowhere near as deadly as its cousin. Or at least, the strain now circulating around Europe is not, with a maximum mortality rate of around 3%, versus up to 30% for smallpox (there is a Central African monkeypox strain believed to have a mortality rate of up to 10%).
People infected with monkeypox experience the familiar flu-like symptoms of many viral illnesses – fever, aches, chills, and headaches. They are followed by an itchy rash that can spread all over the body, blistering the way chickenpox does.
In the current outbreak, symptoms in most patients have been reportedly mild, with most making a swift recovery and no fatalities reported to date. But as with all viral outbreaks, the concern is that continued spread could allow it to mutate into a more dangerous form.
What can I do to protect myself?
The good news about monkeypox is that it is nowhere near as transmissible as COVID-19. It cannot be passed through the air. Instead, you have to be in close physical contact with an infected person to catch it from them. Not to put too fine a point on it, you usually have to come into contact with infected bodily fluids.
However, there are concerns that transmission could occur in very large, crowded gatherings. For example, festival organisers have been urged to issue guidance to attendees and focus on hygiene drives for toilets and catering, sexual health awareness, etc.
So in general terms, all of the advice given throughout the COVID-19 pandemic should stand you in good stead – practice good hand hygiene, carry sanitiser around with you, be extra careful in crowded situations, etc (although in this case wearing a mask won’t make any difference).
Something else to consider is taking out a comprehensive level of holiday insurance before you travel. In truth, insurance is something you should always have whenever you travel abroad, not least because of the chances of falling ill and needing medical attention. As a foreign national, you usually have to pay for medical care. And it can be very, very expensive indeed should you need to be treated in hospital.
This is one of the reasons why there has been such a big drive to get more travellers to buy travel insurance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If you catch it and fall seriously ill while abroad, the care you need could cost you thousands of pounds. Tens of thousands, even. COVID remains a risk, especially with cases reportedly rising again. It doesn’t make sense to take any chances, especially not with the current monkeypox outbreak as well.
All in all, as things stand monkeypox is not something that should put you off your summer holiday or give you many sleepless nights. But it is worth being aware of it and following developments. And make sure you take out that holiday insurance to protect yourself.