Monkeypox Is Not the Next Pandemic—and Effective Treatment is Available.

Monkeypox Is Not the Next Pandemic—and Effective Treatment is Available.

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If you’ve caught a newscast recently, you’re probably aware that there are a small number of cases of monkeypox in the U.S.—around two dozen cases confirmed here and approximately 700 globally. This is a very small outbreak of a rare disease. 

While monkeypox can be fatal, your chances of contracting this virus are extremely low and the survival rate is high. 

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is not a new virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, when two outbreaks were noted in colonies of monkeys kept for research. The first human case was recorded in Africa in 1970. Since then, it has been seen across Africa, primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cases outside of Africa have been linked to imported animals or international travel.

In 2003, six U.S. states reported a total of 47 cases after exposure to pet prairie dogs imported from Ghana. That was the first time human monkeypox was reported outside of Africa. With testing, medications, and tracking the potentially infected animals, the outbreak was soon contained. There were no fatalities reported, and no human-to-human transmission.

It’s understandable that people are anxious about a rare virus outbreak, especially because the COVID-19 pandemic continues. However, we know about this virus, we know how to contain the spread, and we know how to manage it in rare cases of exposure.

Understanding monkeypox symptoms.

There are two known strains of monkeypox, the West African strain and another, more virulent strain, that originated in the Congo Basin. The milder West African strain is responsible for current cases in the U.S. and Europe, and 99% of patients fully recover.

Monkeypox spreads through contact with the virus, either from an infected animal, an infected person, or contaminated objects. Transmission from infected animals can occur due to a bite or scratch, handling wild game, or using products made with infected animals. Humans can spread it to each other through direct contact with sores, scabs, or bodily fluids including respiratory droplets if people are very close to each other. 

In humans, monkeypox symptoms are similar to those of a mild case of chickenpox or smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980. Monkeypox symptoms can include:

  • Backache
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

One to three days after the onset of fever, patients typically develop a rash that often starts on the face. The development of characteristic “pox” blisters or lesions follows, progressing through stages like chickenpox before eventually falling off. Monkeypox infections typically last 2-4 weeks.

Monkeypox prevention and treatment.

With only a few dozen cases in the United States, a good prevention strategy begins with avoiding contact with imported animals and the small number of people who are infected. In the rare event of potential exposure, follow these steps to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid contact with animals that may carry the virus.
  • Avoid contact with materials that may have been near a sick animal.
  • Isolate infected patients.
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Use personal protective equipment when caring for patients.

The vast majority of people who become infected with monkeypox will experience mild symptoms that clear up on their own, and they will make a full recovery. If you are in one of a small number of high-risk categories, you may need treatment if you contact monkeypox. These include:

  • Immunocompromised 
  • Children, especially under age 8
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People with complications and other diseases

There isn’t one specific drug for monkeypox because existing antivirals developed to treat smallpox are expected to have activity against the disease. Similarly, the vaccine that eradicated smallpox provides protection against monkeypox. While preventative vaccination for monkeypox is not necessary in the U.S., the vaccine is available to those who have encountered the virus.

It is understandable that a relatively novel disease and the word “outbreak” can provoke some anxiety. However, monkeypox is not COVID-19. Monkeypox spreads much less actively, the West African strain is not very deadly, and, critically, we have a head start on prevention and treatment methods.

An incredible scientific effort went into the campaign to eradicate smallpox. Vaccines, antiviral medications, and more tools allow us to confront monkeypox with an array of effective treatments. The risk of infection is extremely low for most people in the U.S. If you are infected, the clinical course should be relatively mild and similar to chickenpox.

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