- Monkeypox is a viral disease whose origin and symptoms are similar to smallpox; however, it’s not as serious as smallpox and is rarely fatal. Its symptoms are mainly fever, headache, muscle aches, pimple like/blister like rashes on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body.
- It is spread mainly via direct contact with body fluids, such as skin-to-skin contact and respiratory droplets via prolonged contact such as kissing, intimate physical contact, and sex. It can also be contracted via contaminated surfaces.
- Unlike the coronavirus, colds, flu, and other diseases, monkeypox is not known to linger in the air nor spread by us breathing the same air. Therefore, it is much easier to prevent monkeypox, and it is highly unlikely to become a pandemic.
- Monkeypox vaccines are available but are currently in very short supply. Thus, only those who are considered at high risk are currently eligible to receive them.
On July 23rd, the WHO declared monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern”, and according to a recent Healthline article, there have been over 16,000 cases reported in 75 countries and over 2500 cases reported in the US. The states of California, Illinois and New York are among those hit the hardest. Monkeypox is already an epidemic (sudden or rapid spread within a particular geographic area) and there is even a concern of it becoming an endemic (sustained, steady presence at a certain level in a particular geographic location(s)), but not as much a pandemic (an epidemic that rapidly spreads across a large geographical region) risk.
Thus, it is definitely a disease of concern, but it’s also definitely not another coronavirus that is likely to impact our lives and livelihoods in any way close to what we experienced during the recent pandemic. It also poses less of a threat to the general population, as it predominates within certain groups of people, mainly men who have sex with men in certain locations. So, it’s somewhat more like a STD, hence no need for most people to panic. However, anyone in any sort of intimate contact with someone who has monkeypox is considered at risk. So, we shouldn’t let our guard down either.
In the following paragraphs, I will provide more insight into what monkeypox is, how it’s transmitted, what it does to us, and how we can prevent it.
What is Monkeypox?
According to the CDC, monkeypox is a viral disease that is in the same family as the variola virus, which is the virus that causes smallpox. Despite the similarity in names, monkeypox is not related to chickenpox. Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 when the disease occurred in colonies of monkeys held for research. Despite being named “monkeypox,” the source of the disease isn’t known. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) might harbor the virus and infect people. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. Prior to the 2022 outbreak, monkeypox was limited to several central and western African countries. At that time, almost all monkeypox cases in people outside of Africa were linked to international travel to such countries or through imported animals. Such cases occurred on several continents.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox: fever, chills, sore muscles, headache, tiredness swollen lymph nodes, and a skin rash. According to Mayo Clinic, the incubation period is approximately 5-21 days. After about 1-4 days of having a fever, a skin rash starts. It usually appears on the face, hands or feet and then spreads to other parts of the body.
The monkeypox rash goes through many stages. Flat spots turn into blisters. Then, the blisters fill with pus, scab over, and fall off over a period of 2 to 4 weeks. After that, the symptoms usually subside and eventually clear.
Unless you are already infected with certain other viruses, including HIV, monkeypox seldom poses a significant long-term threat to your health. However, there is always a risk of complications including scars on the face/arm/legs, blindness, other infections, and death (very rare).
How Does Monkeypox Spread?
Monkeypox spreads through close contact with an infected animal or person. It can also spread when a person handles materials that have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox, such as bedding and clothes.
Person-to-person monkeypox transmission usually occurs via direct contact with rashes, scabs, or body fluids of a person with monkeypox, extended close contact (more than four hours) with respiratory droplets from an infected person, including sexual contact. In addition, a pregnant mother can also spread monkeypox to her fetus.
Monkeypox can also spread from animal to a person via bites or scratches and wild game that is cooked for food. Also, as with human-to-human spread, once can contract monkeypox via direct contact with body fluids or rashes of animals with monkeypox.
Prevention is mainly centered around avoiding skin-to-skin contact with people who have monkeypox. This includes not touching their rash or scabs. Also, do not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox. In addition, don’t share their eating utensils or cups, and don’t handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
Good hygiene is also recommended including washing your hands often with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Contraction via animal contact is much less common in most places. However, in Central and West Africa, avoid contact with animals that can spread monkeypox virus, including rodents and primates. Also, avoid sick or dead animals, as well as bedding or other materials they have touched.
Remember, monkeypox doesn’t spread easily between people without close contact.
There are two FDA-licensed/approved vaccines that are effective against monkeypox: JYNNEOS (AKA Imvamune or Imvanex) and ACAM2000. In the US, there is currently a limited supply of JYNNEOS and a substantial supply of ACAM2000. However, ACAM2000 poses undue risk for people with certain health conditions including a weakened immune system, skin conditions like atopic dermatitis/eczema, and pregnant mothers. In general, vaccines are only administered to people who have either been exposed to monkeypox or run a high risk of exposure. For those interested in further exploring monkeypox vaccines, the CDC offers detailed guidelines governing their use.
According to Mayo Clinic, there is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox. Health care providers may treat monkeypox with some antiviral drugs used to treat smallpox, such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) or brincidofovir (Tembexa). Sometimes care providers may treat monkeypox with the vaccinia immune globulin, which has antibodies from people who have received the smallpox vaccine. This is most common among those who are likely to not respond well to the monkeypox vaccine.
Otherwise, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms. Such includes the usual over-the-counter pain management and drinking plenty of fluids.
Also, in order to prevent its spread, people with monkeypox should self-isolate and avoid physical contact with others and pets until their scabs are completely healed.
Monkeypox is definitely a disease we don’t want to get; however, it is usually not life-threatening either. Scaring is the most likely deleterious long-term effect for those in good health who don’t have certain other viral infections, such as HIV.
Although it is spreading at an incredibly high rate, and the WHO, CDC, and other health and government factions are sounding the alarm, monkeypox currently poses a low risk for most people, as it is mainly spread via intimate contact (mainly sex) with those who already have it. Unlike the coronavirus, colds, and the flu, you are unlikely to get it at the grocery store, restaurant, airport, etc. And you can further reduce your risk by being aware of your surroundings and avoiding contact with clothing, bedding and other items that have been in contact with someone with monkeypox.