NEW YORK — Monkeypox may not be causing the same global panic that COVID-19 has, but the infectious disease is still spreading, with cases rising in several U.S. states. With the World Health Organization declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on July 23rd, here is everything you need to know to keep yourself safe this summer.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease which belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox. Although it shares a similar name, monkeypox is not related to the chickenpox. The virus was discovered in 1958 after two outbreaks among research monkeys. Despite the disease getting its name from monkeys, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says its true origin is still a mystery.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the first human case of monkeypox emerged in 1970 in a small child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before 2022, nearly every case of monkeypox involved a person in Africa or someone who traveled to a country where the disease is more common.
As for the current monkeypox outbreak, the CDC has confirmed 14,115 cases throughout the United States as of August 18th.
According to an Aug. 10 study in The Lancet, the virus has now mutated — with human patients now capable of infecting dogs. Researchers in France say a pair of infected men passed the virus to their four-year-old greyhound in June. It’s the first reported case of its kind to this point.
“To the best of our knowledge, the kinetics of symptom onset in both patients and, subsequently, in their dog suggest human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox virus,” the researchers write.
What are monkeypox symptoms?
According to the WHO, the initial symptoms of a monkeypox infection include a fever, intense headaches, muscle aches, back pain, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
One to three days after the fever begins, a patient with monkeypox will develop a rash that usually starts on their face, hands, and feet. The rash turns into clusters of lesions on the skin. They raise up, fill with a clear or yellowish fluid, before eventually crusting over, drying up, and falling off. A patient with monkeypox can end up having just a few of these lesions or develop several thousand all over their body.
Monkeypox symptoms last between two and four weeks before going away with little to no additional treatment. Health officials add that it’s rare for a case of monkeypox to send someone to the hospital and even rarer for someone to die from the disease. Overall, only three to six percent of all monkeypox patients die and these cases typically involve children or adults with other health complications.
How does it spread?
Although monkeypox is not nearly as deadly as other illnesses, like COVID, the virus can easily spread through physical contact. One of the main ways the virus spreads is through direct contact with someone who has monkeypox. Specifically, contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or a patient’s bodily fluids will transfer the infection.
Respiratory secretions from prolonged, face-to-face contact (kissing) can also spread the virus to others. Cuddling or having sex with someone with monkeypox could possibly spread the disease as well. With that in mind, a new report has discovered high viral loads in the saliva, urine, semen, and fecal samples of most monkeypox patients.
Additionally, it’s possible for pregnant women to spread monkeypox to their unborn children through the placenta. Along with people, animals can also carry the disease and pass it on through biting and scratching. The CDC says there’s also a possibility of contracting the disease by eating an animal that had monkeypox.
The disease is transmissible once the first monkeypox symptoms appear. Patients continue to be infectious until the lesions go away and a fresh layer of skin forms in those areas.
Currently, New York, California, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois are among the major hot spots for the virus in America, with over 1,000 cases confirmed in each state. In New York, more than 2,700 people have contracted monkeypox so far, with cases skyrocketing in mid-July. Overall, 49 states now have a confirmed case of monkeypox, with the only exception being Wyoming as of mid-August.
Are there treatments or monkeypox vaccines?
There are no specific treatments for monkeypox, but the CDC says antiviral drugs created to deal with smallpox work just as well. Generally, the virus runs its course without medication after a few weeks. The most urgent piece of medical advice health officials have is for infected patients to isolate themselves — so they avoid spreading monkeypox through physical contact.
There is also a vaccine that prevents smallpox which works on monkeypox. Two doses of the Jynneos vaccine can effectively prevent infection and also reduce the symptoms in people who already have the disease.