GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – July 23, 2022 – Monkeypox is a communicable disease that has recently spread to more than 70 countries and has infected more than 16 thousand people. There has been almost three thousand people infected in the United States. The World Health Organization has declared the disease a global public health emergency, following in the footsteps of COVID-19 two years ago. The virus is related to the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 after outbreaks of the disease occurred in laboratory monkeys. However, the source of the disease is unknown. The virus can reside in African rodents and non-human primates and can infect people. The first human infection was identified in the 1970’s. Up until the recent 2022 outbreak, monkeypox has been endemic in central Africa (a more severe strain) and western Africa (a milder strain that is rarely fatal). Cases outside of Africa were related to human travel or through the export of animals. The recent worldwide outbreak, in countries that have not historically reported the disease, is from the milder West African strain.
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms but milder. They can include: fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, and chills followed by a rash. The rash, from a few lesions to thousands, can appear like pimples or fluid-filled blisters before scabbing over. The illness can last from 2 to 4 weeks until the scabs fall off.
The disease can spread from contact with an infected person or infected animal although not at the rapid transmission rate of COVID-19. An infected person can spread it from the beginning of their symptoms until the rash has completely healed. The virus is primarily spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with the rash, scabs or bodily fluids. It can also spread by prolonged breathing of respiratory droplets or by having contact with items, like clothing or bedsheets, that has previously touched the rash or infected bodily fluids. Most of the monkeypox cases outside of Africa during the recent outbreak have been spread through contact among men who have had sex with men. However, women and children can develop monkeypox with direct contact with an infected person. The time from exposure to the first symptoms can range from 4 to 21 days.
People can prevent getting monkeypox by avoiding close, skin-to-skin contact with infected persons and by not touching items that have been contaminated by an infected individual. Standard detergents and household cleaners are effective at decontaminating bedsheets, clothing and surfaces. Frequent hand sanitation can also reduce the risk of transmission. Infected persons need to isolate at home away from others including pets. All skin rashes need to be covered.
Vaccines and antiviral drugs are available. They are stored in the United States government stockpile in case of a bioterrorism attack with smallpox. Widespread smallpox vaccination has been stopped since the 1980’s with the eradication of smallpox. These vaccines are also effective for the prevention and treatment of monkeypox. This is not the case for the coronavirus vaccine which can only be used for the prevention of disease. The CDC recommends that a person get the vaccine within 2 weeks of exposure to monkeypox. The vaccine is also for people at a high risk of being exposed, for example, laboratory, healthcare and public health workers (who may handle specimens or are exposed to infected patients) and persons having multiple sex partners or anonymous sex. Vaccination within 4 days from exposure may prevent the onset of the disease; administration between day 4 and 14 after exposure may reduce the symptoms.
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