10 Things About Monkeypox
There’s a new global health concern. It’s a virus transmitted from animals to humans (known as a viral zoonosis), and it is called monkeypox. Here’s what you need to know:
- First of all, the risk that a member of the general population will contract monkeypox here in Vermont and the surrounding areas is low.
- The virus is common in Central Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) raised concern when cases started popping up in other countries, including among people who have not traveled to an endemic area.
- About 400 confirmed and suspected cases have been identified in areas not typically associated with the disease. There are about 100 cases in the United Kingdom, about 50 in Portugal, and around 25 in Canada as of May 26. The United States has about 20 cases, including four in New York and one in Massachusetts. WHO estimates that the overall global public health risk is moderate.
- The virus has some similarities to smallpox, a disease that has been eradicated since 1980. Thankfully, the current outbreak of monkeypox appears to be self-limiting, meaning that it clears up on its own without treatment in most cases; although, it could still be dangerous for the very young and immune-compromised people.
- Symptoms include flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymphnodes, and a rash on the face and body. Some people also report headache, back pain, muscle aches, or fatigue.
- The virus spreads through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or shared items (such as clothing, bedding, or utensils) that have been contaminated with fluids or sores of a person with monkeypox. Monkeypox virus may also spread between people through respiratory droplets. Eating inadequately cooked meat and other animal products of infected animals is a possible risk factor.
- The risk of contracting monkeypox is higher for certain populations, including men who have sex with men, those who have come into sexual or direct contact with someone with monkeypox, and those who have traveled to areas where monkeypox is spreading.
- The WHO is monitoring the virus worldwide; educating doctors that they should be aware of the virus’s spread, even among those who have not traveled; and publishing guidance on what doctors should do if they encounter a case.
- If they suspect a case in their community, doctors will deploy many of the same tools as they used for the COVID pandemic. These tools include contact tracing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, personal protective equipment, and isolating the patient in a negative-pressure area. In addition, like COVID, common household disinfectants kill the monkeypox virus.
- There is already one vaccine approved for prevention of monkeypox in Canada and the United States. Vaccines designed against smallpox also have some use against monkeypox.
Recent experience with COVID means that we have never been better prepared to contain and manage the sudden appearance of an infectious disease like this one. If you feel you might have been exposed to monkeypox or you are experiencing symptoms, contact your medical provider for guidance.
Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is an infectious disease specialist, at SVMC Infectious Disease, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.