For the past few years, COVID-19 and its multiple variants have topped headlines as a global pandemic. But now, health officials are tracking cases of a different disease called monkeypox. While it began and has mostly been seen in Africa, the World Health Organization recently labeled the rapidly spreading outbreak a global health emergency. This is their highest level of alert as monkeypox spreads in other parts of the world, including in Europe and the United States.
Monkeypox requires close contact to spread, so it’s unlikely to infect as many people as COVID-19. Still, understanding the basics of monkeypox can help keep it contained, which can make us all safer.
What Is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus of the same name, related to smallpox. It first occurred in research monkeys.
Monkeypox can pass from animals to humans — and between people as well. While the disease isn’t as severe as smallpox, in some cases it can be fatal.
What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?
Monkeypox typically begins with:
- Muscle pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
After a few days, those with monkeypox develop a rash with blisters on their hands, face, feet or genitals. The bumps typically rise, fill with a clear or yellowish fluid, then dry up and fall off.
If you have these signs, make sure you see your health care provider. Let them know if you’ve traveled recently or if you are a man who has intimate contact with other men. While the risk for contracting monkeypox isn’t exclusive to any particular group, many recent cases have unfortunately impacted men in gay or bisexual communities.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact can spread the virus, including sexual and non-sexual activity.
How is Monkeypox Treated?
The majority of monkeypox patients need plenty of rest and fluids. Symptoms typically go away in two to four weeks.
Children and those with poor immune symptoms may get sicker. Rare complications include pneumonia, skin infections and eye infections. You may be prescribed eye drops, mouth rinses or antiviral medicine.
Can Monkeypox Be Prevented?
To prevent the spread of monkeypox, avoid contact with known infected people. If you take care of someone with symptoms, you should both wear masks to stay safe and you can ask them to cover up their rashes with clothing.
Wash your hands with soap and water after handling items touched by someone with monkeypox. And if you’re diagnosed with it yourself, take steps to protect those around you.
Vaccines against smallpox can protect you against monkeypox, either before or after you’ve been exposed. There’s also a newer vaccine that has been approved for preventing monkeypox. However, this shot isn’t widely available right now. The priority is to get it to those who need it most, with hundreds of thousands of doses being shipped to areas with the highest transmission rates. If you encounter monkeypox or are at risk for exposure, you may be offered one.
We’re Here to Help
If you’ve been exposed to monkeypox, have symptoms, risk factors or simply have questions about this illness or the vaccine, reach out to your primary care provider. At AdventHealth, we’re here to support our patients and communities with care that attends to your body, mind and spirit throughout this outbreak and always.
Learn more about how primary care can help here.