Things to know about monkeypox

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 1:16 PM EDT
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There are now two presumptive cases of monkeypox in South Florida, which has local residents paying more attention to a disease that is rarely seen outside of Africa.

Recent monkeypox cases have drawn added scrutiny because it appears that people who have not traveled to Africa have been diagnosed with the virus.

Experts continue to stress that the risk to the general population is low.

1. How did it originate?

Despite monkeypox not being familiar to most Americans, it is not a new disease.

The CDC says that monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research, hence the name "monkeypox."

The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Monkeypox was later reported in humans in other central and western African countries.

Monkeypox cases were first reported in the U.S. in 2003, impacting Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio.

2. How does it spread?

Transmission of monkeypox virus occurs when a person comes into contact with the virus from an animal, human or materials contaminated with the virus, according to the CDC.

It enters the body through broken skin, respiratory tract, eyes, nose or mouth.

Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets. Since respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, prolonged face-to-face contact is required.

Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids and indirect contact with such items as contaminated clothing or linens.

Animal-to-human transmission may occur from a bite or scratch, body fluids or contaminated bedding.

A lead adviser to the World Health Organization said the most recent outbreak of monkeypox may be explained through sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men at two raves held in Spain and Belgium.

The main disease carrier of monkeypox is still unknown although African rodents are suspected to play a part in transmission.

Dr. Kurt Zaeske told NBC News that he had monkeypox in 2003 during the first U.S. outbreak.

The Wisconsin veterinarian said he was infected after coming into contact with an infected prairie dog.

Zaeske said he was sick for about five days, but after taking antibiotics, he started to feel better in about two days.

3. What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of monkeypox are similar but milder than the symptoms of smallpox, the CDC says.

Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, backache and exhaustion.

The main difference between the symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell while smallpox does not.

It may take 7−14 days before an infected person shows symptoms of the virus.

Within one to three days after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash — often beginning on the face — then spreading to other parts of the body.

Monkeypox is usually not fatal. Experts say the form of the virus that is currently circulating has a fatality rate of less than 1%.

4. Can monkeypox be treated?

Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox virus infection, according to the CDC.

For purposes of controlling a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin can be used.

One vaccine, known as Imvamune or Imvanex, has been licensed in the United States to prevent monkeypox and smallpox.

Because the monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can also protect people from getting monkeypox, according to the CDC.

Past data from Africa suggests that the smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox.

5. How can I prevent from catching monkeypox?

The CDC says there are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent from being infected with monkeypox:

  • Avoid contact with animals that could harbor the virus, including animals that are sick or that have been found dead in areas where monkeypox occurs
  • Avoid contact with any materials, such as bedding, that has been in contact with a sick animal
  • Infected patients should be isolated from others who could be at risk for infection
  • Practice good hand hygiene after contact with infected animals or humans. Wash your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Use personal protective equipment when caring for patients diagnosed with monkepox.

President Joe Biden told reporters Monday that he doesn't think monkeypox rises to the level of concern that existed with COVID-19.

Biden's remarks came one day after he said the virus was something "to be concerned about."

Portions of this article courtesy of the Associated Press

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