Monkeypox: Stay Informed, Stay SafeHealth Hub
In July, the global monkeypox outbreak led the World Health Organization to declare it a public health emergency of international concern.
The declaration aims to foster a coordinated international response to keep the virus from spreading and spur countries to increase funding for vaccines, treatments, and other resources to curb the virus.
Before April 2022, monkeypox virus infection in humans was rarely reported outside central and west Africa, where it mostly occurs. In April, the United Kingdom reported its first case. Since then, the virus has spread globally.
Although the threat of monkeypox remains low for most people, prevention remains crucial. Dr. Stephanie Stovall, Chief Clinical Officer of Quality/Safety and Hospital-Based Care, answers some pressing questions about the virus, how it spreads, and what you need to know to stay safe.
(As of July 31, global monkeypox confirmed cases totaled about 22,500, with 5,189 reported cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In our state, the Florida Department of Health reported 371 cases.)
Q: What is monkeypox?
A: Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox, the variola virus. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.
Monkeypox symptoms are like smallpox symptoms, but milder, and the current circulating strain of this virus is rarely fatal. Despite being named “monkeypox,” the source of the disease remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) might harbor the virus and infect people.
Q: Who is at risk for getting monkeypox?
A: Anyone can contract the virus. In the United States, those most at risk are people who have close or intimate contact with individuals who are known or suspected to have monkeypox
Q: How is it spread?
A: According to the CDC, monkeypox spreads in a few ways:
- Skin-to-skin direct contact, including direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids from a person with monkeypox.
- Touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
- Prolonged face-to-face contact.
- Also, a pregnant person can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.
- It’s also possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal.
A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?
A: After exposure to monkeypox virus, several days to a few weeks may pass before symptoms develop. Typically, monkeypox symptoms start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.
Symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that are firm, hard and painful,and may be located on or near the genitals (penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or anus but could also be on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.
The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing after 2-4 weeks. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. There is no evidence to show that monkeypox can be spread between people prior to the onset of symptoms.
Q: How worried should we be?
A: This virus is the west African strain of monkeypox, which is generally a mild infection for most people. But it’s important that those infected and their contacts are identified. Among vulnerable people such as people with weakened immune systems or who are pregnant, the virus is more concerning.
Because monkeypox is not a new virus, doctors understand how to treat it and how it relates to the family of poxviruses. It’s less transmissible than COVD-19. And unlike COVID, the virus is less likely to undergo changes (mutate).
Q: How is monkeypox treated?
A: Most people with monkeypox get better on their own without treatment. Currently, there are no treatments specifically for monkeypox virus infections. However, because monkeypox and smallpox viruses are genetically similar, antiviral drugs and vaccines that protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat monkeypox virus infections.
If you have symptoms of monkeypox, you should talk to your healthcare provider, even if you don’t think you had contact with someone who has monkeypox.
The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to monkeypox and some people who are at higher risk of being exposed to monkeypox.
Learn more here about how to lower your risk for contracting monkeypox in situations and places where monkeypox could spread.