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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Norway: What causes it, and is it serious? 

Norway reported its first case of the monkeypox virus on Tuesday. What causes the virus, and is it anything to worry about? 

File photo of petri dish.
This is what you need to know about monkeypox in Norway. Pictured is a file photo of a petri dish.

Someone from Viken County has become the first person to be diagnosed with monkeypox in Norway, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) announced Tuesday evening. 

The person in question developed symptoms after returning home from a foreign trip. The case is part of a wider outbreak in Europe. 

Contact tracing had taken place in the person’s home municipality, and the risk of further infection is considered low, the NIPH said. 

What is monkeypox? 

Monkeypox, apekopper in Norwegian, is a zoonotic virus (a virus spread from animals to humans) that most often occurs in areas of tropical rainforest in Central and West Africa. It is occasionally found in other regions, and cases have recently been discovered in Europe, North America and Australia.w

“We’ve known about this virus in apes since the 1950s,” Fredrik Elgh, consultant and professor of virology at the University Hospital of Umeå in Sweden, told Swedish news wire TT.

“Every type of animal has its own type of pox, us humans had closely-related smallpox, which was wiped out in the 1980s. Smallpox was an enormous issue throughout the history of humanity, we can see that on old mummies.”

“In more recent times, like the 1700s, we know that in every family, multiple children died of smallpox.”

There is no vaccine for monkeypox approved in Europe, but vaccines for smallpox are effective against the virus, as the two viruses are members of the same family.

“The vaccine used against smallpox also has an effect on monkeypox,” Elgh told TT. “That means that those born in the mid-70s or earlier will have a degree of immunologic memory. Young people have no immunity. There’s also a new, sophisticated vaccine which gives good coverage after two doses.”

“What’s good about poxes is that even if you take the vaccine after you’ve been infected, it has an effect on the progress of the illness. There are also antiviral medicines,” Elgh explained to TT.

What causes it? 

Monkeypox is spread via close contact with an animal or human with the monkeypox virus. It can be transmitted via bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets or through contaminated materials, such as bedding.

“The disease is transmitted from animals (primarily rodents) to humans but can also be transmitted between humans via contact with rashes and droplets. The virus is transmitted primarily through close contact,” The NIPH wrote on its website

Norway is not the only country to have detected cases of monkeypox. Cases have also been reported in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.

What are the symptoms?

Monkeypox causes fever and chickenpox-like rash, the NIPH has said. The rash can leave wounds when they heal. Monkeypox typically has an incubation period of six to 16 days, but it can be as long as 21 days. Once lesions have scabbed over and fallen off, the person with the virus is no longer infectious.

Why is it in the news now? 

Although cases of monkeypox have been reported outside of affected areas of Central and West Africa previously, the virus is making headlines in parts of Europe now because this is the first time cases have been identified in persons with no recent history of travel to affected areas and no history of contact with previous imported cases.

Is it dangerous? 

Most people will recover without treatment, and it is only in rare cases that you see serious illness. Monkeypox very rarely leads to death, according to the NIPH. 

The health institute also said that it would be possible to manage the disease without classifying it as “generally dangerous”. 

Could this cause a new pandemic? 

It’s unlikely, Elgh believes. He told TT that “this is not a new pandemic”.

“The general public does not need to be worried about monkeypox,” he added. “But my belief and hope are that this will not be a pandemic like corona. The most likely scenario is that as long as we contact trace properly, it will ebb out,” he told TT.

He explained that the two viruses are different types of viruses, meaning that monkeypox cannot adapt as easily as the Covid-19 virus.

“Monkeypox is a DNA virus, while coronavirus is a RNA virus,” he explained to TT. “DNA viruses are much more stable, which means that you don’t need to be worried that they will adapt as quickly. It would take a lot and a long time before they adapt to humans.”

Norway’s public health authority also said that the risk of further infection from the one reported case was low. 

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HEALTH

Norway announces review to tackle ‘crisis’ in GP system

Norway’s government has tasked an expert committee to devise measures to improve the current GP system.

Norway announces review to tackle 'crisis' in GP system

More than 175,000 residents are currently without a GP in Norway, the government said in a statement on Thursday as it announced a broad-ranging expert review of national GP services. 

The objective of the expert committee will be to provide specific recommendations on how the GP system can be improved so that all residents have a permanent GP. The system should also be made sustainable, the government statement said.

“The current action plan (to improve the GP system) has several good measures, but they have not had the desired effect. So we have to think again, and we have to take new measures. We cannot continue on the same track and hope that the situation will resolve itself over time,” Minister of Health and Care Ingvild Kjerkol said in the statement. 

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said next year’s budget would include more funding for the GP scheme. 

“We are working in top gear to find solutions for the GP system and take the crisis with the utmost seriousness,” Støre said.

Part of the expert committee’s work will be to develop proposals for how the GP system should be funded and organised.

Problems faced by the national GP service are mounting, the government recognised in the statement. These include a lack of young doctors signing up to the GP programme, high workloads for existing GPs and recruitment problems at municipal level.

Being left on a GP waiting system and struggling to get an appointment were two common issues mentioned by The Local’s readers in a recent survey on the Norwegian healthcare system.

READ MORE: What do foreigners think of the Norwegian healthcare system?

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