Monkeypox less contagious than COVID-19 with visible symptoms – expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — Monkeypox is less transmissible compared to COVID-19 and preventive measures against the coronavirus are effective against the new viral illness that recently entered the Philippines, epidemiologist John Wong said on Monday.

"The rate of transmission of monkeypox is much lower than COVID. You can only get it through close (physical) contact. There's also respiratory transmission but these are through droplets which are bigger particles and they don't travel very far unlike COVID where the droplets are aerosolized, so they also travel much farther," he told CNN Philippines.

The doctor said Filipinos don't need to be alarmed after the Philippines confirmed its first case of monkeypox. Instead, he said they should be able to identify the symptoms.

Unlike COVID-19, he said all monkeypox cases exhibit physical symptoms that are easily recognizable.

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and rashes that can turn into lesions. The rashes start with flat red marks usually on the patient's face, hand, and mouth then become raised and filled with pus.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a person is not contagious during the incubation period of 1-2 weeks. It adds that once scabs fall off after a week, a person is no longer contagious.

"The reason we shouldn’t be worrying too much is that there’s no pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic stage, unlike for COVID. So that’s why it’s only infectious during the symptomatic stage and people can easily immediately isolate," Wong said.

COVID-19 preventive measures like wearing well-fitting masks, isolation at the onset of symptoms, and good hand hygiene, will help prevent monkeypox infection.

Monkeypox is a less severe cousin of smallpox that originated from animals. The World Health Organization earlier noted that most of the monkeypox cases are among men who had sex with other men.

Department of Health officer-in-charge Rosario Vergeire said 95% of monkeypox cases detected were passed through sexual contact.

However, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.

The virus can be spread through skin-to-skin contact via kissing, cuddling, or having sex, touching objects or surfaces used by someone with monkeypox, or contact with body fluids like saliva. Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact according to WHO.

"We have already oriented all our healthcare workers and facilities on how to detect this, so you can be observed also. Early care is best," Vergeire said. "Pangalawa ang preventive measures, ang laging paghugas ng kamay. Maging vigilant dapat tayo. Maging mapagmatyag. Dapat alam natin kung paano maiiwasan at kung ano ang sintomas ng sakit na ito."

[Translation: Second is the preventive measures, frequent handwashing. Let us be vigilant. We should know how to prevent getting the symptoms of this virus."

Vergeire said that to date, only one case of monkeypox has been detected in the country. The 10 close contacts of the case have not yet been tested but are being quarantined and closely monitored for possible symptoms.

The Philippine government is also in talks with development partners to secure assistance when vaccines will be made available to the country.