Brazil and Spain have reported their first monkeypox deaths, the first known fatalities from the diseases documented outside of Africa.
Brazil's health ministry announced a 41-year-old man had died of monkeypox on Thursday, July 28. They noted that he had a compromised immune system, experienced “other relevant comorbidities,” and a history of chemotherapy treatment, which likely contributed to the severity of the infection.
The following day, Spain released an update on the monkeypox outbreak in the country on Saturday, June 29, saying 4,298 cases had been confirmed and two had died. No other details were given in the report.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the current monkeypox epidemic a global health emergency. As of July 28, over 21,000 monkeypox cases have now been reported, with the WHO saying up to 70 percent are in the European region and 25 percent from the region of the Americas. Prior to the deaths in Spain and Brazil, there had been 5 fatalities in Africa.
Symptoms of monkeypox are also similar to (albeit milder than) smallpox. Patients experience fever, intense headache, swelling of the lymph nodes, back pain, achy muscles, extreme tiredness, and skin lesions. It can, however, it can also cause severe illness that requires hospitalization. The fatality rate is 3 to 6 percent.
The ongoing outbreak has taken public health experts by surprise since the disease is typically seen in Africa, where the virus is endemic and naturally found in animals, namely rodents. Odd cases occasionally are seen outside of Africa, but it's rare for an outbreak to take root.
There's some evidence that the monkeypox virus (MPXV) has recently mutated at a far faster rate than scientists would typically expect, which could potentially explain the ongoing explosion of cases in the parts of the world where the virus doesn’t usually thrive.
It's notable that the overwhelming majority of cases – up to 98 percent by WHO estimates – have been seen with men who have sex with men. However, anyone can catch the infection and it shouldn’t be considered a sexually transmitted disease. It's spread through close contact with an infected person, which may or may not involve sexual contact.
The good news is that there is a vaccine already available. Since monkeypox is part of the same family as smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can protect against monkeypox. Many countries have been offering the shot to people who are most at risk right now, including healthcare workers, men who have sex with men, and people who have had close contact with a patient with confirmed monkeypox.