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Why is it called monkeypox? Name of virus outbreak explained, meaning, origins - and where does it come from

The latest outbreak has affected 11 countries in Europe and North America

The UK has reported nearly 500 cases of monkeypox, as infection rates surge by 28%.

On 13 June, there were 104 cases confirmed alone, bringing the total number of infections in the UK to 470.

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England currently has the most cases with 452 confirmed, there are 12 in Scotland, four in Wales and two in Northern Ireland.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is recommending those who contract the infection to isolate themselves.

The virus, which is usually found in central and western Africa, is experiencing its first outbreak out of the region since 2003.

The disease is spread by close contact, including sexual intercourse.

Here’s everything you need to know about monkeypox including how it got its name and where it comes from.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a very rare disease mainly spread by infected animals in central and western Africa.

Cases in the UK and Europe are incredibly rare, with the overall risk of catching the disease here low.

Monkeypox has a similar appearance to chickenpox, with a rash and red spots common, alongside traditional symptoms of feeling unwell.

The latest outbreak has affected 11 countries in Europe and North America  including Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, US, Sweden and Canada.

So far in the UK there are 470 confirmed cases.

Whilst there is no dedicated vaccine for monkeypox, the smallpox vaccine is effective and offers 85% of protection against the disease.

Why is monkeypox called monkeypox?

The name monkeypox comes from the first ever documented case of infection.

This was discovered in the 1950s, in monkeys that were used for research.

However, it isn’t just monkeys that are carriers of the disease, it is often found in other mammals including rope squirrels, tree squirrels and Gambian pouched rats.

On 14 June, the World Health Organisation confirmed it was working with experts to come up with a new name for the virus.

In June, a group of 30 scientists called for an “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name.

Where does monkeypox come from?

Monkeypox originates from central and western Africa.

Numerous cases of monkeypox in humans have been identified in the UK since 7 May

The disease was found to come from animals including monkeys in the 1950s, but has since spread to humans.

According to the WHO, the first documented case was a nine-year-old boy infected in the 1970s in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The disease is found in 11 countries in Africa, including Nigeria, which records an estimated 3,000 cases every year.

Monkeypox is uncommon outside of Africa with the last outbreak outside of the region occurring in 2003.

The infection happened after 800 animals were shipped from Ghana to Texas.

They were stored near prairie dogs, which were subsequently infected and then bought as pets.

The outbreak led to 47 confirmed cases discovered in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms can take between five and 21 days to appear.

The risk of catching Monkeypox in the UK is said to be ‘low’ (image: Getty Images)

The first symptoms can include:

  • a high temperature
  • a headache
  • muscle aches
  • backache
  • swollen glands
  • shivering (chills)
  • exhaustion

A rash usually appears on the face, between one and five days after the first symptoms have materialised.

It is similar in appearance to chickenpox, presenting as raised spots, which turn into blisters, which eventually scab over and drop off.