What is monkeypox? A microbiologist explains what’s known about this smallpox cousin

Monkeypox causes lesions that resemble pus-filled blisters, which eventually scab over. CDC/Getty Images

Rodney E. Rohde, Texas State University

On May 18, 2022, Massachusetts health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a single case of monkeypox in a patient who had recently traveled to Canada. Cases have also been reported in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Monkeypox isn’t a new disease. The first confirmed human case was in 1970, when the virus was isolated from a child suspected of having smallpox in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Monkeypox is unlikely to cause another pandemic, but with COVID-19 top of mind, fear of another major outbreak is understandable. Though rare and usually mild, monkeypox can still potentially cause severe illness. Health officials are concerned that more cases will arise with increased travel.

I’m a researcher who has worked in public health and medical laboratories for over three decades, especially in the realm of diseases with animal origins. What exactly is happening in the current outbreak, and what does history tell us about monkeypox?

A cousin of smallpox

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to a subset of the Poxviridae family of viruses called Orthopoxvirus. This subset includes the smallpox, vaccinia and cowpox viruses. While an animal reservoir for monkeypox virus is unknown, African rodents are suspected to play a part in transmission. The monkeypox virus has only been isolated twice from an animal in nature. Diagnostic testing for monkeypox is currently only available at Laboratory Response Network labs in the U.S. and globally.

The name “monkeypox” comes from the first documented cases of the illness in animals in 1958, when two outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. However, the virus did not jump from monkeys to humans, nor are monkeys major carriers of the disease.

Electron microscope view of monkeypox, showing oval-shaped, mature virus particles and spherical, immature virions
Monkeypox belongs to the Poxviridae family of viruses, which includes smallpox. CDC/ Cynthia S. Goldsmith

Epidemiology

Since the first reported human case, monkeypox has been found in several other central and western African countries, with the majority of infections in the DRC. Cases outside of Africa have been linked to international travel or imported animals, including in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The first reported cases of monkeypox in the U.S. was in 2003, from an outbreak in Texas linked to a shipment of animals from Ghana. There were also travel-associated cases in November and July 2021 in Maryland.

Because monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can provide protection against infection from both viruses. Since smallpox was officially eradicated, however, routine smallpox vaccinations for the U.S. general population were stopped in 1972. Because of this, monkeypox has been appearing increasingly in unvaccinated people.

Person getting temperature tested at airport
Indonesia began screening travelers after a monkeypox case was reported in Singapore in May 2019. Jepayona Delita/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Transmission

The virus can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or animal or contaminated surfaces. Typically, the virus enters the body through broken skin, inhalation or the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth. Researchers believe that human-to-human transmission is mostly through inhalation of large respiratory droplets rather than direct contact with bodily fluids or indirect contact through clothes. Human-to-human transmission rates for monkeypox have been limited.

Health officials are worried the virus may currently be spreading undetected through community transmission, possibly through a new mechanism or route. Where and how infections are occurring are still under investigation.

Signs and symptoms

After the virus enters the body, it starts to replicate and spread through the body via the bloodstream. Symptoms usually don’t appear until one to two weeks after infection.

Monkeypox produces smallpox-like skin lesions, but symptoms are usually milder than those of smallpox. Flu-like symptoms are common initially, ranging from fever and headache to shortness of breath. One to 10 days later, a rash can appear on the extremities, head or torso that eventually turns into blisters filled with pus. Overall, symptoms usually last for two to four weeks, while skin lesions usually scab over in 14 to 21 days.

While monkeypox is rare and usually non-fatal, one version of the disease kills around 10% of infected people. The form of the virus currently circulating is thought to be milder, with a fatality rate of less than 1%.

Vaccines and treatments

Treatment for monkeypox is primarily focused on relieving symptoms. According to the CDC, no treatments are available to cure monkeypox infection. https://www.youtube.com/embed/yqUFy-t4MlQ?wmode=transparent&start=0 Because smallpox is closely related to monkeypox, the smallpox vaccine can protect against both diseases.

Evidence suggests that the smallpox vaccine can help prevent monkeypox infections and decrease the severity of the symptoms. One vaccine known as Imvamune or Imvanex is licensed in the U.S. to prevent monkeypox and smallpox.

Vaccination after exposure to the virus may also help decrease chances of severe illness. The CDC currently recommends smallpox vaccination only in people who have been or are likely to be exposed to monkeypox. Immunocompromised people are at high risk.

Rodney E. Rohde, Regents’ Professor of Clinical Laboratory Science, Texas State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Laughing is good for your mind and your body – here’s what the research shows

It’s hard to beat a good laugh with a friend. Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Janet M. Gibson, Grinnell College

Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life.

Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.

As I found when writing “An Introduction to the Psychology of Humor,” researchers now appreciate laughter’s power to enhance physical and mental well-being.

Laughter’s physical power

People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders.

Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity.

By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases.

women laughing together at an outdoor meal
Getting the joke is a good workout for your brain. Thomas Barwick/Stone via Getty Images

Laughter’s cognitive power

A good sense of humor and the laughter that follows depend on an ample measure of social intelligence and working memory resources.

Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.

To “get” a joke or humorous situation, you need to be able to see the lighter side of things. You must believe that other possibilities besides the literal exist – think about being amused by comic strips with talking animals, like those found in “The Far Side.”

Laughter’s social power

Many cognitive and social skills work together to help you monitor when and why laughter occurs during conversations. You don’t even need to hear a laugh to be able to laugh. Deaf signers punctuate their signed sentences with laughter, much like emoticons in written text.

Laughter creates bonds and increases intimacy with others. Linguist Don Nilsen points out that chuckles and belly laughs seldom happen when alone, supporting their strong social role. Beginning early in life, infants’ laughter is an external sign of pleasure that helps strengthen bonds with caregivers.

Later, it’s an external sign of sharing an appreciation of the situation. For example, public speakers and comedians try to get a laugh to make audiences feel psychologically closer to them, to create intimacy.

By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you. When you laugh in response to humor, you share your feelings with others and learn from risks that your response will be accepted/shared/enjoyed by others and not be rejected/ignored/disliked.

In studies, psychologists have found that men with Type A personality characteristics, including competitiveness and time urgency, tend to laugh more, while women with those traits laugh less. Both sexes laugh more with others than when alone.

white-haired woman laughing on a park bench
Laughter has value across the whole lifespan. Steve Prezant/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Laughter’s mental power

Positive psychology researchers study how people can live meaningful lives and thrive. Laughter produces positive emotions that lead to this kind of flourishing. These feelings – like amusement, happiness, mirth and joy – build resiliency and increase creative thinking. They increase subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Researchers find that these positive emotions experienced with humor and laughter correlate with appreciating the meaning of life and help older adults hold a benign view of difficulties they’ve faced over a lifetime.

Laughter in response to amusement is a healthy coping mechanism. When you laugh, you take yourself or the situation less seriously and may feel empowered to problem-solve. For example, psychologists measured the frequency and intensity of 41 people’s laughter over two weeks, along with their ratings of physical and mental stress. They found that the more laughter experienced, the lower the reported stress. Whether the instances of laughter were strong, medium or weak in intensity didn’t matter.

Maybe you want to grab some of these benefits for yourself – can you force laughter to work for you?

A growing number of therapists advocate using humor and laughter to help clients build trust and improve work environments; a review of five different studies found that measures of well-being did increase after laughter interventions. Sometimes called homeplay instead of homework, these interventions take the form of daily humor activities – surrounding yourself with funny people, watching a comedy that makes you laugh or writing down three funny things that happened today.

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You can practice laughing even when alone. Intentionally take a perspective that appreciates the funny side of events. Laughing yoga is a technique of using breathing muscles to achieve the positive physical responses of natural laughing with forced laughter (ha ha hee hee ho ho). Some tips on how to get started with laughing yoga.

Researchers today certainly aren’t laughing off its value, but a good deal of the research on laughter’s influence on mental and physical health is based on self-report measures. More psychological experimentation around laughter or the contexts in which it occurs will likely support the importance of laughing throughout your day, and maybe even suggest more ways to intentionally harness its benefits.

Janet M. Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Grinnell College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guilt and anger are both heavy weights to bear

DSC_0337Be good to your friends, family and those around you, for you do not know when your time to go will come or theirs. Constantly remind yourself how important your friends and family are so you do not take them for granted. Be kind to others and do it sincerely so when your time comes to go you will be remembered as the great person you are and not for your mistakes. Forgive yourself, and others for guilt and anger are both heavy weights to bear through life. Besides the fact our time on earth is short if not brief, the negative emotions we harbor shortens or lifetime by eating away at the body. Plenty of medical research has been done on the effects of emotions on the human body both positive and negative. Besides what we eat, what we think, say and do can change our physical and our mental health as well.  Plus being more of a positive force in the world tends to bring happiness to all involved and that in itself is a reward worth seeking.

We can either be a part of the problem, an unproductive part of society or a part of the solution when it comes to life and its problems. The choice is ours alone which path we follow and how we interact with others on our journey trough life.

Ray Barbier

Just Another Political Rant

Assorted international currency notes.Power, greed and deception are the rules and conditions of politics. Almost every single politician is concerned with their own wealth and the power that comes with their elected position. Campaign promises created to get votes and bills filled with hidden earmarks and agendas fill the congress. Healthcare is only affordable by the rich and pharmaceutical companies push the medical industry to use pharmaceuticals to manage diseases instead of educating the patients or surgery.

There is far more money in selling overpriced pharmaceuticals to manage a health problem than to come up with an actual cure. This is not to say there isn’t anyone out there looking for cures, just that funding and priority for finding a cure for a disease is lower than the research for drugs that help manage a disease. Though I will give the present administration a thumbs up for the fact they are pushing the idea of better diet and physical fitness as a preventative measure in keeping good health.

It still gets me quite upset that there are some congress officials and hopefuls looking for a way to increase the retirement age and or diminish the social security plan. For one thing even if the average life expectancy is like 80 it does not mean the majority of humans will survive to that age. The percentage that are lucky enough to live to see retirement are usually not as healthy due to having to work so hard and long. With the fact that it takes the lower and below middleclass citizen 2 to 3 jobs to maintain a decent standard of living only puts more strain on the health of those individuals.

For as Medicare/Medicaid and any federal or state funded health care , it should be limited to legal citizens who have and will contribute to the tax systems both at state and federal levels. The only way illegal aliens could be a part of the system is if the government went to a national sales tax to replace the current income tax. This would insure every individual living in the united states would and could contribute their fair share to the government funds. Of course this federal sales tax should not be on food or necessities of life such as utilities only on luxuries.

One thing I have learned is if it makes sense the government will either ignore the idea or take it and load it down with so many earmarks or amendments it becomes a useless idea and bill/law. Once in a while one might actually slip through with little change but that is becoming a very rare occasion in recent years.

Well enough rambling on about politics and such.
Peace to all Raymond Barbier.

Guilt, Mistakes and Self Forgiveness

027 Self forgiveness is something that very few of us ever practice, forgiving one’s self seems to be a much harder task than to forgive others. Why does it seem that to forgive some one is much easier than to forgive our own mistakes and transgressions?  For some reason we tend to be much harder on ourselves than we are on other people. We must realize that like everyone else we are not perfect and therefore we will make mistakes and should learn from those mistakes but not allow those mistakes to control our lives.  We can focus on our positive attributes and our achievements instead of on our mistakes and our negative aspects.  Mistakes being a part of the natural learning process that we all go through and they are beneficial in learning what we should not do.  So making mistakes is something that we all must face in this life that we live.

  Guilt which is an aftereffect of making a mistake is suppose to be a short lived emotion to help us remember that we had made that mistake.  Guilt is not supposed to be a lifelong emotion and if it becomes one it changes from a beneficial emotion into a destructive emotion.  Suffering Guilt for a long period of time is devastating to a persons self-esteem and their personal happiness. Accept the mistakes that you have made, then learn from them and try not to repeat them is about all one can do. Everybody makes mistakes and everyone faces guilt from time to time and that my friend is what being human is all about.

Well till next time

Peace R. Barbier

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship

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  There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, parent, child or lover and holding on to that belief only keeps someone from enjoying life and those who are in it. If we would learn to accept the fact the person we love and care about is human and will have many flaws we might be happier in our relationships. We can not expect anyone to adhere to the standards of perfection we have in our mind. Each person has both great qualities and potential as well as a bad side to their personality. We all suffer from a bad side and there is not one person here on earth who is perfect. We all should show respect to others and have self respect as well. Respect for each other is a very important part of any relationship, without respect a relationship will fall apart eventually.

Respect yourself and all others and love without condition along with understanding. Try to see things through the eyes of others and realize that sometimes there is more there than meets the eye. Never expect perfection from yourself or others. This is not to say you cant have high standards for yourself and others but be realistic in the standards you set. If you set the bar too high then you or they will never reach the goal or standard. Also remember relationships are a partnership so you must work together to make the relationship work and to improve its quality.

“Love yourself and others for who and what they are”

R. Barbier

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