The new monkeypox outbreak is making headlines. It’s a rare, transmissible virus that’s related to smallpox. The 2022 outbreak is different from previous clusters of monkeypox and is still in its early stages. Public health teams are learning more as case counts grow.
So far, no cases have been reported in Michigan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the risk of being infected with monkeypox through casual contact currently is extremely low.
The best COVID-19 safety practices such as wearing masks and frequent hand washing will be important tools to protect against monkeypox, the CDC reports.
It’s critical that anyone who has been exposed to monkeypox, or believes they may have symptoms, isolates and immediately notifies public health authorities.
This situation is evolving quickly, and we’ll learn more in the coming weeks and months. For now, here’s what you should know about monkeypox and how you can stay safe.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a zoonotic infection, which means it began in animals and spread to humans. It’s from the same family as other poxviruses including smallpox (called Orthopoxviridae) and was first discovered in humans in 1970. It’s believed to be endemic to Africa and transmitted when someone has close contact with another monkeypox patient or from rodents carrying the disease. Contrary to its name, it mostly is spread through rodents, not monkeys.
What does monkeypox look like what are the symptoms?
A monkeypox rash starts as red spots and progresses over time to pus-filled, blister-like lesions that eventually scab over. It is typically found on the face or extremities like the hands, legs and feet. The lesions are generally all the same size and develop at the same rate. In the latest round of cases, many of the patients had the rash on only the genitals or anus, which means the symptoms may be mistaken for a sexually transmitted infection or STI. Some people with monkeypox reported feeling like they’re coming down with a cold or flu days before their rash develops. These symptoms include headaches, fevers, muscle and body aches, and fatigue. Some have reported swollen lymph nodes.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with the monkeypox lesions or the fluid inside them. The virus also can be spread by breathing in or directly contacting infected respiratory droplets. There have been some cases where monkeypox was transmitted from surfaces that were contaminated with respiratory droplets or fluid from the lesions. (This is another reason we need to keep wearing the masks we’ve been accustomed to during the COVID-19 pandemic and why we should keep washing our hands regularly and cleaning high-touch surfaces.) However, some scientists are reporting that they don’t believe the virus is airborne.
How long does it take to become sick?
It can take an estimated five to 21 days for someone to become sick with monkeypox after they’ve been exposed. That’s a long time and makes it especially hard to do contact tracing. The good news: A long incubation period means we can give people treatments or vaccines that can help keep them from getting sick if we’re able to catch it early. That makes it important to contact your doctor or the Detroit Health Department immediately if you may have been exposed to monkeypox. The illness lasts about two to four weeks.
How dangerous is monkeypox?
This outbreak involves what’s known as the western African clade, which is less severe and has a fatality rate of about 1%. But many of those cases were reported in countries where there weren’t many medical resources, which means people likely had worse outcomes than they would have in other regions of the world. No one has died from monkeypox in the U.S. during previous outbreaks.
How is monkeypox treated?
Since monkeypox and smallpox are related, we can use the smallpox vaccine to prevent illness even after someone has been exposed. It’s about 85% protective against monkeypox. (However, someone’s immunity can weaken as they age.) A new vaccine can be used, but it is in short supply. Antiviral medications, such as cidofovir or tecovirimat, can be used to treat severe cases. Some people may also be treated with immune globulin antibodies if they can’t get other kinds of treatment. Most people don’t require any treatment and get over the infection on their own.
Who is most at risk for monkeypox?
Unlike previous outbreaks, some of the people who are currently being infected with monkeypox are people who identify as men who’ve had sexual contact with men and reported new partners in the last month. However, cases aren’t limited to one gender or sexual orientation, and there are reports of household members or roommates being infected. This makes it challenging to diagnose monkeypox because doctors may mistake skin lesions for more common infections. There’s good reason to believe other cases may have gone undiagnosed.