WHAT IS MONKEYPOX
Monkeypox isn’t a new disease. The first confirmed human case was in 1970, when the virus was isolated from a child suspected of having smallpox in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Monkeypox is unlikely to cause another pandemic, but with COVID-19 top of mind, fear of another major outbreak is understandable. Though rare and usually mild, monkeypox can still potentially cause severe illness.
A COUSIN OF SMALLPOX
Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to a subset of the Poxviridae family of viruses called Orthopoxvirus. This subset includes the smallpox, vaccinia and cowpox viruses. While an animal reservoir for monkeypox virus is unknown, African rodents are suspected to play a part in transmission.
Because monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can provide protection against infection from both viruses. Since smallpox was officially eradicated, however, routine smallpox vaccinations for the U.S. general population were stopped in 1972. Because of this, monkeypox has been appearing increasingly in unvaccinated people.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or animal or contaminated surfaces. Typically, the virus enters the body through broken skin, inhalation or the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth. Researchers believe that human-to-human transmission is mostly through inhalation of large respiratory droplets rather than direct contact with bodily fluids or indirect contact through clothes. Human-to-human transmission rates for monkeypox have been limited.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
After the virus enters the body, it starts to replicate and spread through the body via the bloodstream. Symptoms usually don’t appear until one to two weeks after infection.
Monkeypox produces smallpox-like skin lesions, but symptoms are usually milder than those of smallpox. Flu-like symptoms are common initially, ranging from fever and headache to shortness of breath. One to 10 days later, a rash can appear on the extremities, head or torso that eventually turns into blisters filled with pus. Overall, symptoms usually last for two to four weeks, while skin lesions usually scab over in 14 to 21 days.
VACCINES AND TREATMENTS
Treatment for monkeypox is primarily focused on relieving symptoms. According to the CDC, no treatments are available to cure monkeypox infection.
Evidence suggests that the smallpox vaccine can help prevent monkeypox infections and decrease the severity of the symptoms. One vaccine known as Imvamune or Imvanex is licensed in the U.S. to prevent monkeypox and smallpox.