Alarmed by the spread of monkeypox in at least 75 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the viral disease is a public health emergency of international concern, as more than 16,000 cases have been reported outside the central and western African regions where the disease is endemic.

Monkeypox has also been detected among children. Five deaths have been recorded although it is not known to be fatal similar to the coronavirus.

The WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the risk of the spread of monkeypox globally was still moderate, except in Europe where it was high, especially among people who have multiple sexual partners and for men who have sex with men.

This is the second time the WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) in two years after the global spread of the deadly coronavirus disease that has affected more than 574 million people and killed nearly 6.5 million.

The coronavirus disease outbreak was declared a pandemic more than two years after it was first detected in China. The United States suspected that the virus was developed in a biological warfare laboratory because Beijing kept some data about its origin a secret.

China also reluctantly cooperated with the WHO, which investigated the origin of the disease in Wuhan, and withheld vital information about it.

Now the spread of monkeypox was speculated to have been developed also from a biological warfare laboratory somewhere in Eastern Europe. Global health authorities were puzzled by the mode of transmission and spread in countries where it was not reported in decades.

Most of these biological warfare laboratories were funded by the United States’ Department of Defense under a $2.1-billion military program. Six of these laboratories are in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives has been calling for an inquiry into the activities of the US-funded laboratories, particularly in Tarlac.

The Philippines was among countries worst hit by the African Swine Flu but the US-funded laboratory has done nothing to mitigate or stop the outbreak among the local population.

There were speculations the US-funded laboratory could be doing research on something else.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr is in a position to look into the cooperation between the US Department of Defense and the local agriculture department. It was a strange agreement. The agriculture department should be cooperating not with the US defense department but with its farm sector to stop animal disease, like the ASF, from spreading.

Marcos Jr. must look into the activities of the US defense department. He is, afterall, the agriculture secretary. Increasing food production should not be his sole concern. The potential leak of a laboratory-developed biological weapon should also be a top priority. Humans, not only the hog population, are at risk.

In 2020, the world saw the spread of coronavirus, which probably came from a military laboratory in China. The outbreak of monkeypox could be another problem coming from a biological warfare laboratory.

Monkeypox could be similar to smallpox, which had been eradicated long ago. Health authorities have been using smallpox vaccines to treat monkeypox.

The rare disease is caused by the monkeypox virus, which is usually found in parts of Central and West Africa. While cases of the viral disease have been identified in countries outside Central and West Africa before, these usually involved people who have traveled to the region.

The virus is found in several animals, such as rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, and non-human primates, among other species, and can be transmitted to humans.

The disease was first detected in the 1950s in laboratory monkeys although monkeys don’t appear to be the main carriers of the virus.  The WHO said the first human case—a nine-year-old boy—was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since then, the disease has spread to 11 countries across Central and West Africa. The disease has also sporadically been reported outside Africa—with the first outbreak outside the region occurring in 2003.

The monkeypox virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose, or mouth, similar to the coronavirus.

Animal-to-human transmission can occur via a bite, scratch, direct contact with bodily fluids or lesion materials, or even the preparation of bush meat.

The virus does not tend to spread easily between people, and requires close contact with an infected person. Human-human transmission is mainly thought to occur via respiratory droplets, which cannot travel more than a few feet. As a result, prolonged face-to-face contact is usually needed for this to happen.

Between people, the virus can also be transmitted via direct contact with contaminated bodily fluids or lesion material, or indirect contact with lesion material, such as through bedding or clothing.

Similar to coronavirus, the incubation period of monkeypox—the time it takes for someone to develop symptoms after infection—tends to be between seven and 14 days, but the interval can be anywhere from five to 21 days.

Scientists don’t consider monkeypox to be contagious during the incubation period and there is no record of asymptomatic spread of the disease. 

The disease typically begins with flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, muscle aches, and severe lack of energy, accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes. 

Subsequently, the infected individuals can develop rashes—usually within one to three days of fever appearing. These tend to start on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. These rashes progress in shape and character over the course of the disease. 

Initially, they start as macules (flat lesions less than one centimeter in size) before evolving into papules (slightly raised lesions,) then vesicles (lesions filled with clear liquid,) and lastly pustules (lesions filled with yellowish liquid. After this, the lesions, which can number in their thousands, scab and eventually fall off. 

Symptoms tend to last between two and four weeks, with the disease being self-limited—meaning one that resolves on its own with or without treatment.

The disease is preventable and much easier to manage than coronavirus. But researchers should find out more on how the disease has been spreading globally even among people who have no travel history to Africa.

Could this be another viral disease that came out from military-run laboratories?