By Barrett White
Per the CDC, monkeypox is rare and does not easily spread between people without close contact. Threat to the general population remains low.
Just two years ago, we were learning the first details of what would become the COVID-19 pandemic – a global health crisis not experienced in generations. Understandably, current news of monkeypox gaining global traction might feel like cause for concern. Thankfully, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is following the virus and the news is good: There is no cause for concern or panic over the monkeypox virus.
Let’s discuss the basics, per the CDC:
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with monkeypox virus. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, but the first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. The virus has been reported in people in several central and western African countries, but the majority of infections are in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Monkeypox cases in people have occurred outside of Africa and are usually linked to international travel or imported animals. Cases have been reported in the United States, Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Where monkeypox comes from is unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.
What are the signs and symptoms?
In humans, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell while smallpox does not. The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7-14 days but can range from 5-21 days.
The illness begins with:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.
Lesions, or skin injuries caused by the virus, may appear with the rash before falling off on their own. The lesions begin with discoloration before becoming blisters, which may pop (kind of like a pimple).
The illness typically lasts for 2-4 weeks. In Africa, monkeypox has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease.
How does monkeypox spread? Is it as easy to catch as COVID-19?
Monkeypox is not as easily transmittable as COVID-19. Monkeypox virus can spread when a person comes into contact with the virus from an infected animal, infected person, or materials contaminated with the virus. The virus can also cross the placenta from the mother to her fetus.
Monkeypox virus may spread through direct contact with body fluids or sores on an infected person or with materials that have touched body fluids or sores, such as clothing or linens.
The virus spreads between people primarily through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or body fluids. It also can be spread by respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact. Monkeypox can spread during intimate contact between people, including during sex, as well as activities like kissing, cuddling, or touching parts of the body with monkeypox sores. At this time, it is not known if monkeypox can spread through semen or vaginal fluids.
The virus may also spread from animals to people through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, by handling wild game, or through the use of products made from infected animals.
Are gay and bisexual men more susceptible?
The current outbreak of monkeypox in Europe and North America appears to be related to two large gatherings held recently in Spain and Belgium and attended primarily by gay men. The CDC issued an alert to gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) that the virus appears to be spreading in the community globally.
However, while this outbreak may have started at an event attended by gay and bisexual men, monkeypox can infect anyone regardless of sexual orientation.
Monkeypox is not categorized as an STI; it can be spread through any close bodily contact.
CDC is working with state and local health officials to identify people who may have been in contact with individuals who have tested positive for monkeypox, so they can monitor their health.
Monkeypox is rare and does not spread easily between people without close contact. The threat of monkeypox to the general U.S. population remains low.
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