Monkeypox vs Smallpox: Similarities and Differences

Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, but is a milder and belongs to the same group of viruses known as orthopox virus. All you want to know about the similarities it shares with smallpox and the differences between the two diseases.

Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, but is a milder form caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the same group of viruses known as orthopox virus.


Several cases of monkeypox, the rare viral zoonotic disease, have been identified in various parts of the world - many European countries, US, Canada, Australia - ever since the first case related to the current spread was found in the UK on May 7. Its outbreak has become a cause of concern as earlier the virus was mainly found in Africa but is now spreading fast

In an interview with HT Digital, Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, Consulting Chest Physician MD Chest and Tuberculosis, Masina Hospital, Mumbai, talks about monkeypox and its differences with smallpox, which was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980.

How is monkeypox similar to smallpox

Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, but is a milder form caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the same group of viruses known as orthopox virus. It is normally found in Africa and the rainforest of Africa. It is milder as compared to smallpox. Its symptoms are similar to smallpox like fever, headache, or rash and flu like symptoms, but it is self limiting and is cured in around three weeks.

Difference between monkeypox and smallpox

The main difference between monkeypox and smallpox is that apart from the flu like symptoms, monkeypox causes enlargement of lymph nodes or glands, which are there in the body, which helps us differentiate between the two.

Comparing symptoms of monkeypox and smallpox

Dr Ladhani says the symptoms of monkeypox are much milder as compared to smallpox. And the fatality is around 10%.

"The other difference is that monkeypox is also spread from animal to person through rodents, monkeys, squirrels, through either broken skin or bites or scratches from them, or through direct contact with an infected animal's blood, body fluids or lesions," says Dr Ladhani.

How monkeypox can spread

The expert says the infection also spreads from person to person also but it is less common.

- It happens when you come in contact with airborne droplets when one person coughs or sneezes. It requires prolonged face to face contact, or it can also happen through body fluids.

- It is also speculated to be sexually transmitted from one person to another.

- It can also come or spread by direct or indirect contact with materials contaminated with the virus, this can include clothing, bleeding, or other linens used by an infected person or animal.

Diagnosis of monkeypox

"Diagnosis is by tissue samples and as far as the treatment is concerned, it is mostly self limited and is cured in two to three weeks’ time. It is in milder form, as I said of smallpox and, just by symptomatic management, it can be treated," says Dr Ladhani.

What is smallpox and how it spreads

Smallpox is a highly contagious and a very deadly disease caused by a variola virus. This disease is now considered eliminated. There have been no cases of smallpox since around 1977, and it was declared by WHO to be eradicated. The smallpox virus spreads directly from person to person. And it normally spreads by breathing air, which is contaminated with droplets of moisture, breathed out by an infected person. This can also spread by contact with clothing or bed linens, which are used by an infection.

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