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What is the difference between monkeypox and normal smallpox? Are they just as deadly?


We explain the similarities and differences between monkeypox, which has been detected in multiple countries, and normal smallpox, and which is more deadly.

What is monkeypox and what are its symptoms?


(CNN Spanish) --

It has been more than 40 years since smallpox was officially eradicated, but the devastation it caused is still very present in memory: it is estimated that the disease claimed the lives of some 300 million people in the century alone. XX.

What similarities and differences does it have with the current monkeypox that has been detected in multiple countries?

We explain it to you.

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The monkeypox virus, which causes the disease of the same name, belongs to a genus called


in the family


, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English).

The variola virus, which caused the smallpox disease, also belongs to this genus, as does the virus used in the vaccine to prevent smallpox.

  • Monkey pox (monkeypox): in which countries have cases been detected?

The virus that caused smallpox, however, was eradicated: it no longer exists in nature.

From Egyptian mummies to monkey colonies

Smallpox-like rashes were found on Egyptian mummies, suggesting, according to the CDC, that the disease had been around for at least 3,000 years.

Its origin, however, is unknown.

The institution explains that already in the fourth century of our era there were written descriptions in China of a disease such as smallpox, which spread throughout the planet until its eradication in 1979 thanks to vaccination.


The trajectory of monkeypox is quite different.

It was first discovered in 1958, when there were two outbreaks of a similar disease in monkey colonies kept for research, the CDC explains.

The first human case dates back to 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since then, cases have been reported in countries in Africa and also outside the borders of the continent.

Transmission: Several Similarities, One Key Difference

Before it was eradicated, smallpox was spread when infected people coughed or sneezed, releasing respiratory droplets, according to the CDC.

The scabs from the wounds and the liquid from the sores also contained the virus, so they could be a source of transmission, either directly or through contaminated materials such as clothing or bedding.

This also applies to monkeypox, which is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets, the CDC says, thus involving prolonged face-to-face contact between someone who has the virus and someone who doesn't.

Also the direct link with the virus from body fluids or matter in lesions, as well as indirect through clothing, can spread the disease.

However, there is a key difference: transmission from animals to humans.

In the case of monkeypox, animal-to-human transmission can occur through bites or scratches, through the preparation of bushmeat, direct contact with bodily fluids or injured matter, or indirect contact, for example through of contaminated clothing.

Here there would be a key difference with smallpox, which, according to the CDC, is only transmitted between humans: there is no evidence that they infect animals.

Incubation period

In cases of smallpox, the incubation period ranged from 7 to 19 days, although on average it occupied 10 to 14 days. In monkeypox it is a little less: although it can range from 5 to 21 days, the most common is from 7 to 14.

Possible key to distinguish them: swollen glands

Monkeypox begins with a headache, muscle aches, fever and exhaustion, the CDC says, explaining that symptoms are "similar to but milder than smallpox."

The most notable difference is that in monkeypox the lymph nodes are swollen, which was not the case in smallpox.

"Swollen lymph nodes can be generalized (affecting many different places in the body) or localized to multiple areas (for example, the neck and armpit)," the CDC says.

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that, despite this difference, laboratory tests are needed to make a definitive diagnosis.

In both cases, lesions will later develop on the body.

Treatment and vaccine

There is currently no treatment for monkeypox virus infection.

The WHO says that while there is an approved vaccine for monkeypox prevention and the traditional smallpox vaccine also provides protection, "these vaccines are not widely available and populations around the world under the age of 40 or 50 are already do not benefit from the protection afforded by previous smallpox vaccination programs.

The WHO points out that the outbreaks can be controlled since the smallpox vaccine has shown an efficacy of 85% in preventing monkeypox.

However, following the global eradication of smallpox in 1980, production of the vaccine was discontinued and it is no longer accessible to the public.

In the US, the CDC says, smallpox vaccines are not recommended for the general public precisely because the disease is eradicated, but they can be used in case of outbreaks.

There is currently no "proven and safe" treatment for monkeypox, according to the CDC.

To control outbreaks in the United States, they say, smallpox vaccine, antivirals and vaccine immune globulin can be used.

And what about smallpox?

Although it has been eradicated, there are FDA-approved treatments that have not yet been tested in people with the disease and proven effective in that setting.

Monkeypox is less deadly

About 3 in 10 people who had smallpox before it was eradicated died, according to CDC figures.

With monkeypox, the statistics are different: in Africa, the death of 1 in 10 people who contract the disease has been recorded, a significantly lower percentage.

"Serious cases (of monkeypox) occur more frequently among children and their evolution depends on the degree of exposure to the virus, the patient's health status and the severity of complications," explains the WHO.

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2022-05-23

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