MILAN – In the current spread of monkeypox among countries outside of Africa, this zoonotic orthopox DNA virus is sexually transmitted in more than 90% of cases, mostly among men having sex with men (MSM), and can produce severe skin and systemic symptoms but is rarely fatal, according to a breaking news presentation at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.
Synthesizing data from 185 cases in Spain with several sets of recently published data,, a dermatologist at Centro Médico Teknon, Barcelona, said at the meeting that there have been only two deaths in Spain in the current epidemic. (As of Sept. 30, after the EADV meeting had concluded, a total of three deaths related to monkeypox in Spain and one death in the United States had been , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Hospitalizations have been uncommon, and in Spain, there were only four hospitalizations, according to data collected from the beginning of May through early August, she said. Almost all cases in this Spanish series were from men having high-risk sex with men. Upon screening, 76% had another sexually transmitted disease, including 41% infected with human immunodeficiency virus.
More than 40% of patients with monkeypox have HIV
These data are consistent with several other recently published studies, such as one that evaluated 528 infections in 16 non-African countries, including those in North America, South America, Europe, the Mideast, as well as Australia. In that survey,, and covering cases between late April and late June, 2022, 41% were HIV positive. Of those who were HIV negative, 57% were taking a regimen of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection.
However, these data do not preclude a significant risk of nonsexual transmission, according to Dr. Català, who noted that respiratory transmission and transmission through nonsexual skin contact is well documented in endemic areas.
“The virus has no preference for a sexual orientation,” Dr. Català cautioned. Despite the consistency of the data in regard to a largely MSM transmission in the epidemic so far, “these data may change with further spread of infection in the community.”
Typically, the incubation period of monkeypox lasts several days before the invasive period, which is commonly accompanied by systemic complaints, particularly fever, headache, and often lymphadenopathy. These systemic features usually but not always precede cutaneous involvement, which is seen in more than 90% of patients, according to Dr. Català. In the Spanish series, mucocutaneous involvement was recorded in 100% of patients.
Monkeypox and smallpox
“The differential diagnosis might include other vesicular eruptions, such as those caused by varicella or smallpox,” reported Dr. Català, who noted that monkeypox and smallpox are related.
Cutaneous lesions often appear first at the site of infection, such as the genitalia, but typically spread in a secondary eruption that is pruritic and may take days to resolve, according to Dr. Català. She reported that single lesions are less common but do occur. While hundreds of lesions have been reported among cases in endemic areas, most patients had 25 lesions or fewer in the Spanish epidemic and other recent series.
Even though there is a common progression in which lesions begin in a papular stage before the vesicular and pustular stages in a given area, new eruptions can occur before a prior eruption develops scabs.
“Frequently, not all the patient’s lesions are in the same stage of development,” said Dr. Català, who explained that disease activity and its complications, such as proctitis, pharyngitis, and penile edema, can take weeks to resolve. Because of the highly invasive nature of monkeypox, it is appropriate to be alert to less common manifestations, such as ocular involvement.
Many of these and other complications, such as secondary bacterial infections, will require targeted treatment, but the mainstay of therapy for the dermatologic manifestations of monkeypox is symptomatic treatment that includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics.