The History of Monkeypox: From Discovery to Current Understanding

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that was first identified in 1958 in monkeys. The disease is similar to human smallpox, and its symptoms include fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes. In this article, we will discuss the history of monkeypox, from its discovery to our current understanding of the disease.

Discovery of Monkeypox

Monkeypox was first identified in 1958 in monkeys that had been kept for research purposes in Denmark. The disease was later found to affect other animals, including rodents and humans. The first human case of monkeypox was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970.

Early Understanding of Monkeypox

In the early years of monkeypox research, it was believed that the disease was transmitted from animals to humans through direct contact. However, it was later discovered that the disease could also be transmitted from person to person through respiratory secretions, blood, or other bodily fluids. This made it more difficult to control the spread of the disease.

Smallpox Eradication and Monkeypox

In 1980, smallpox was declared eradicated, thanks to a successful global vaccination campaign. This had an unintended consequence for monkeypox, as the smallpox vaccine was also effective against monkeypox. This meant that monkeypox became the only orthopoxvirus disease (the family of viruses that includes smallpox) that was not eradicated.

Current Understanding of Monkeypox

Today, monkeypox is primarily found in central and West African countries. The disease is believed to be transmitted to humans through contact with animals, including rodents and primates. The disease is usually self-limiting, with most people recovering within two to four weeks. However, in some cases, monkeypox can be severe, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

Preventing Monkeypox

Prevention of monkeypox primarily involves avoiding contact with infected animals and practicing good hygiene. This includes washing hands regularly, wearing gloves when handling animals, and cooking meat thoroughly before consumption. Travelers to areas where monkeypox is endemic should also be cautious and avoid contact with animals, especially monkeys and rodents.


Monkeypox has a fascinating history that spans over six decades. While the disease is rare, it is important to understand its history and current understanding in order to prevent its spread. Prevention involves avoiding contact with infected animals and practicing good hygiene. Research into the development of a specific monkeypox vaccine is ongoing, and vaccination against smallpox can provide some protection against the disease.