What Everyone Needs to Know About Monkeypox

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There has been a lot of news in the media about monkeypox. And there will be more in Tennessee as the first case in the state was recently reported in Davidson County. It has spread to 57 countries with more than 8,300 cases since early May, when it usually remains where it is endemic in Africa. Because of the swift spread, on June 23 of this year the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the smallpox family, however it is less severe and less transmittable. The disease causes pus-filled lesions to form on the skin, usually centralized in one area of the body, and it also causes swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, chills, pain and exhaustion. Symptoms start about one to two weeks after exposure to the virus and last roughly two to four weeks. Outward signs of the disease manifest before the patient can transmit the virus, and once the lesions scab over they are no longer infectious.

According to the World Health Organization, it is more dangerous in newborns, children, and those with underlying health concerns. For those who suffer from a more virulent case, it can lead to pneumonia, blindness and death if not treated. So it is important to see a doctor if you begin to have any of the symptoms.

Monkeypox can infect anyone, but during the current epidemic scientists have traced a significant number of cases to men who have sex with men. That makes this group the highest risk group in the current outbreak. Sexual contact and close intimate contact like cuddling or dancing are the most frequent means of transmission. However, it can be transmitted by sharing food with someone infected or touching fabric that has come in contact with the virus such as bedding or dressings that have been used over open lesions. Casual contact like grabbing a can on the grocery shelf will not cause infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer an exposure risk assessment here.

Because it is endemic to Africa, past breakouts outside this area have affected people who have traveled to countries in Africa where there is an outbreak and had close contact with someone who is infected. In the past, it has burned itself out once those infected have been isolated until they are no longer infectious and treated. This time the disease does seem to have more momentum. Scientists are still trying to figure out why there is a much larger spread of cases right now.

“Historically, the disease has been fatal in about 1% of those who are infected, says medshadow.com. So far, the current outbreak appears to be more mild than previous ones.”

Cases have recently exploded in Europe, especially Germany, France and the United Kingdom. It  is spreading quickly around the United States, with the majority of cases in California, Illinois, Florida and New York.

There is a Vaccine and Treatment

Unlike the arrival of COVID-19 with no vaccine or known treatment available to those infected when it flew across the world in late 2019 and early 2020, there is a vaccine that can be used against monkeypox and there are also effective treatments.

Because it is genetically similar to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine and antiviral treatments used for smallpox are effective against monkeypox.

The CDC website highly recommends that any individual showing symptoms of monkeypox should talk to their healthcare provider. This is true even if the individual doesn’t believe they have had contact with anyone who has monkeypox. Also, those infected need to isolate themselves and strictly avoid contact with both family and pets. Any clothing, linens, and eating utensils used by someone infected must not be touched without protection and they must be cleaned with an antiviral disinfectant.

Why is it Hitting Hard Now?

Its existence has been known since 1958 and it has remained relatively contained in Africa. There are a number of theories as to why it has spread so quickly and so far at this time. While scientists are trying to figure out what has changed, one issue is sure to be a factor – the slowing of vaccinations.

An article on Gavi.com notes that “routine immunizations against smallpox stopped in the early 1970s in places like the US and UK. As smallpox vaccines can be 85% effective at preventing its related virus, monkeypox, many people born after that time are not immune anymore.” The CDC is considering reinstituting the immunization of children under six years of age as they are the most vulnerable group.

The Gavi.com article goes on to say that it is less transmissible than COVID-19 and it’s not an airborne virus or one that can be aerosolized as COVID-19 can be. A mask, gown and gloves are effective precautions in a hospital environment or if near someone with the virus.

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