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News Navigator: What is monkeypox, and how can it be treated in Japan?

This electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases shows the monkeypox virus. (Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the infectious disease monkeypox, which has recently been spreading in many countries and has been declared "a public health emergency of international concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Question: What kind of infectious disease is monkeypox and how is the epidemic spreading?

    Answer: Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, and it has symptoms such as bumpy rashes on the face and body, fevers and headaches. The disease was first reported in 1958 in a monkey used in research, and it is known to infect a variety of animals, including squirrels and rats. In 1970, human infection was reported in Africa, followed by outbreaks in the region.

    The current outbreak is spreading in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, and according to the WHO, more than 14,000 people have been infected since the beginning of this year in about 70 countries. In Africa, five people have died. In Asia, there have been reports of patients in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

    Q: How is the monkeypox virus transmitted?

    A: The virus is often found in saliva and body fluids, as well as in lesions, and there is a risk of infection through contact with body fluids and other sources. With the current outbreak, many cases were identified among men who have sex with men, and sexual activity appears to be one route of infection.

    Q: What measures can be taken in Japan?

    A: Under the infectious disease control law, which serves as the basis for taking countermeasures, viruses and bacteria are classified into categories 1 to 5 based on their infectivity and whether they are likely to cause severe illness if contracted. Monkeypox is classified under category 4, the same as rabies and dengue fever. In that category, authorities can order contaminated areas to be disinfected and rodents and insects to be exterminated. Also, the doctors who diagnosed the disease are required to report all patient cases to public health centers. However, it is not possible to take measures such as recommending hospitalization of infected patients that are being treated for the coronavirus, which is equivalent to category 2.

    Q: Are there any vaccines?

    A: According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and other sources, the smallpox vaccine is effective in preventing the onset of monkeypox. But no vaccinations against smallpox have been conducted in Japan since 1976, and people born after that are considered to have no immunity. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is examining whether the vaccine can be administered to health care workers and others who may come in contact with monkeypox patients. In Japan, KM Biologics Co. based in the city of Kumamoto produces a smallpox vaccine.

    (Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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