Monkeypox has been labeled a global threat by the World Health Organization. While not as contagious as Covid, monkeypox is a virus that we should take seriously including following precautions and educating ourselves about the disease.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is an orthopoxvirus, like smallpox, although not as contagious and not as deadly. The disease has been endemic in some African countries but was rarely reported in Western countries until recently. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the reason monkeypox has continued to be present in Africa is “due to unequal access to global vaccine stockpiles and healthcare resources.”
The virus is zoonotic, meaning it came from animals and spread to humans. According to the CDC, monkeypox is believed to have originated in small mammals including rodents such as prairie dogs, squirrels, hedgehogs, and shrews as well as monkeys and anteaters.
Symptoms of Monkeypox
There are a variety of symptoms, and an infected person may experience all or only a few including flu-like symptoms before a rash, a rash first then other symptoms, or only a rash. Major symptoms include:
- A rash located on any part of the body including the hands, feet, chest, face, mouth, or around the genitals. The rash will go through stages. The first stage may look like pimples or blisters and may be painful and itchy. The rash will go through stages and eventually scab.
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches including backache
- Respiratory symptoms such as sore throat
Symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the virus with flu-like symptoms and the rash will appear one to four days later. Monkeypox will last about two to four weeks and can be spread from the time symptoms appear through the rash and until all scabs have fallen off.
What Scientists Know About How Monkeypox is Spread
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, and contrary to how it is portrayed in the media, men who have sex with men are not the only at-risk group. Portraying monkeypox as a disease only acquired by gay and bisexual men, just as AIDS was depicted in the 1980s is misleading and dangerous to the public. A “gay disease” stigma endangers the rest of the population which are just as vulnerable, but who may feel a false sense of security because of the “gay only” stigma, similar to HIV and how it spread far beyond the gay community.
Monkeypox is spread through close, personal, skin-to-skin contact. It can be spread through animals, including scratches or bites from an infected animal.
It can also spread from a pregnant person to a fetus through the placenta.
Most commonly it can be passed through hugging, massage, kissing, contact with respiratory secretions from coughing or sneezing, and contact with fabrics (linens, towels, clothes) that have been used by someone with monkeypox. Direct contact can also occur with sexual activity between any people as skin-to-skin contact is a major risk factor.
Touching a rash, scab, sore or bodily fluids of someone with monkeypox can also spread the illness.
What Remains Unclear
Scientists are still studying if monkeypox can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, or feces. They are also learning more about how often monkeypox is spread through respiratory secretions, and which symptoms may indicate someone is contagious. Finally, scientists still are unsure if monkeypox can spread without symptoms.
What Should You Do?
We currently don’t have any known cases of monkeypox in Sedgwick County. However, if you suspect you may have been exposed, contact your health care provider right away. Wear a mask to protect others and refrain from close skin-to-skin contact.
There aren’t any known treatments for monkeypox, however, some antivirals such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) and vaccines developed for smallpox may be used to protect against monkeypox and severe illness. Some individuals 18 or older may be eligible for a vaccine if they know they have had close or intimate contact with an infected person, have been contacted by the health department as a close contact, or are a public health care provider or laboratory worker.
If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, you can manage your symptoms. According to the CDC you can take steps to make yourself more comfortable as you recover including:
- Pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with fever and aches.
- Oral rinses can help with any rashes in your mouth.
- For rashes on the skin, keep them covered with gauze and don’t touch them. You can also use topical benzocaine and lidocaine creams and gels to help with pain and antihistamines to help with itching.
- Soaking in a warm bath using products for itchy skin or a sitz bath with Epsom salts is good for soothing rashes around the genitals.
Monkeypox is spreading at a rapid rate, however with precautions, and education, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from this disease.