Monkeypox Features Include Mucocutaneous Involvement in Almost All Cases

Ted Bosworth

October 04, 2022

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, Alba Català, MD, 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 October 4, after the EADV meeting had concluded, a total of three deaths related to monkeypox in Spain and two deaths in the United States had been reported.)

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, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and covering cases between late April and late June, 2022, 41% were HIV positive. Of those who were HIV negative, 57% were taking a pre-exposure prophylaxis regimen of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection.

However, these data do not preclude a significant risk of nonsexual transmission, according to 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," 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 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 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 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 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.

Re-epithelialization Reduces Transmission Risk

"A clean, moist environment can mitigate transmission potential by covering infectious sores and promoting the re-epithelialization of the damaged exanthem," Català advised. Tecovirimat (TPOXX, ST-246), an antiviral drug for smallpox, is approved for treating monkeypox in Europe but not in the United States (but it is approved for smallpox in the United States). Another antiviral drug, brincidofovir (CMX001 or Tembexa), is approved for smallpox in the United States, but not in Europe, according to Català. (In the United States, no treatment is specifically approved for treating monkeypox, but antivirals developed for smallpox "may prove beneficial against monkeypox," according to the CDC.)

But she advised weighing the risks and benefits of using either drug in any individual patient.

The data suggest that the risk of viral shedding persists until the late stages of the disease trajectory. "A person is considered infectious from the onset of clinical manifestations until all skin lesions have scabbed over and re-epithelization has occurred," Català said.

The prolonged period of contagion might be one reason to expect monkeypox to be transmitted more generally than it is now, according to Boghuma K. Titanji, MD, PhD, assistant professor of infectious diseases, Emory University, Atlanta.

"The longer the outbreak persists, the more likely we will see cases reported in groups other than MSM who have been most affected so far," said Titanji, the first author of a recently published review article on monkeypox in Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

However, he acknowledged that a COVID-like spread is not expected. "The spread of monkeypox requires close and prolonged contact and is generally inefficient via fomites and droplet modes of transmission," Titanji said in an interview. "Spread in heterosexual networks and congregate settings like crowded jails where close contact is unavoidable remains a concern that we need to educate the public about and maintain a high level of vigilance for."

Català and Titanji report no potential conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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