Monkeypox is a relatively new virus — discovered less than a century ago and was once considered quite rare. However, since May 2022, more than 58,000 people across the globe have been infected with the virus. And while the number of monkeypox cases has fallen from a peak in August, it’s critical to be aware of how monkeypox spreads to prevent a future outbreak.
Here, we answer all your questions about the monkeypox virus outbreak and how to prevent infection.
What Is Monkeypox
Monkeypox is a disease that develops from being infected by the monkeypox virus. This results in a rash, similar to smallpox, and sometimes flu-like symptoms. Although the disease has come into the news as of late, Monkeypox gets its name from the initial discovery of the virus over 50 years ago.
Until recently, Monkeypox mostly affected people and travelers in central and western Africa. However, in the past 6 months, the disease has spread to many nations. It has become most newsworthy for its rapid spread throughout Europe and the Americas where new cases continue to develop.
Where did monkeypox come from?
The monkeypox virus is endemic in western and central Africa, where most cases have occurred. Although it likely originated in African rodents, monkeypox gets its name from the initial discovery of the virus in 1958 amongst captive monkeys. Since then it has been found in a number of animals as well as humans. Since the first human case was reported in 1970, reported cases have been sparse outside of Africa until the most recent outbreak.
In the spring and summer of 2021, cases started popping up in the United Kingdom and the United States amongst people who had traveled from Nigeria. By May 2022, cases were being discovered daily in various parts of the world where the disease is not typically found. Today, roughly 87% of reported cases of monkeypox are in North and South America and Europe.
What Are The Symptoms Of Monkeypox
The monkeypox virus is from the same family as the smallpox virus. As a result, monkeypox has similar but milder symptoms to smallpox. While some monkeypox symptoms vary from person to person, everyone develops a rash. The rash can be painful and itchy, appearing on or near the genitals, anus, chest, hands, feet, face, or mouth.
Other potential symptoms of monkeypox include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches and backache
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
Not everyone will experience symptoms other than a rash or a few lesions. In addition, people who experience similar symptoms may do so before or after the rash appears.
What does monkeypox look like?
The monkeypox rash can look like pimples or blisters at first and may only appear as 1 or 2 bumps or many. However, the rash can last up to four weeks and will go through many stages throughout this time. Lesions often become raised and filled with a clear fluid before the fluid turns opaque. The lesions also are firm to the touch and turn into open sores before scabbing over and eventually healing.
The rash doesn’t appear the same on everyone. For instance, lesions can vary in size from 2-10mm and in number from a few to hundreds. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the current monkeypox virus outbreak looks different than previous outbreaks. Doctors are seeing fewer lesions and a rash concentrated on one or a few parts of the body, most commonly the genitals or mouth.
The monkeypox rash can appear on the genitals, anus, chest, face, hands, feet, or mouth. It can also be painful at times and itchy, typically when lesions scab over. It also may not appear until 1-4 days after experiencing flu-like symptoms. If you develop a rash, talk to your doctor or dermatologist to confirm it is monkeypox as rashes develop for other reasons, such as stress, too.
Does monkeypox leave scars?
Monkeypox can leave scars where the lesions occurred. These may appear as lighter or darker skin or pits, similar to acne scars. Monkeypox lesions may also cause keloid scars, which are raised, rubbery scars with a pink or red color. To avoid scarring, dermatologists recommend not itching or picking the lesions and keeping the area clean with an antibacterial wash, as most scars develop as a result of bacterial infection.
How long does monkeypox last?
Monkeypox typically lasts between two and four weeks after symptoms appear. However, once infected with the monkeypox virus, it can take up to three weeks to experience symptoms. The typical incubation period is between 7 and 14 days, but symptoms may arise as soon as 3 days after infection.
Once someone infected with monkeypox begins to experience symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, or a rash, they are contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when all scabs from the rash have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed, a person is no longer considered contagious.
How Is Monkeypox Transmitted
Monkeypox is transmitted through close contact with a person or animal infected with the disease. In the present monkeypox disease outbreak, monkeypox has been transmitted primarily through sex. However, close physical contact with an infected person or infected materials can result in transmission as well.
- Direct contact with an infected person’s lesions
- Contact with respiratory secretions
- Contaminated materials such as clothing or bedding
- Prolonged face-to-face contact
How contagious is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a very contagious disease. The rapid spread through Europe and the United States in recent months is a good example of this. The primary mode of transmission is through sexual contact. However, monkeypox is also contagious through direct contact with the monkeypox rash, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials. Thus, it’s important for someone who has monkeypox to isolate until symptoms dissipate, the rash fully disappears, and the skin heals.
At this time, it is believed that someone who is asymptomatic is not contagious.
Is monkeypox airborne?
At this point, research surrounding monkeypox does not suggest that the virus is airborne, or transmitted via air. However, researchers are following the current monkeypox outbreak closely to better understand the disease and how it is transmitted. When transmitted through face-to-face contact, the virus is believed to be carried through respiratory droplets that can land on another person, i.e., via close speech.
How To Prevent Monkeypox
It is possible to prevent monkeypox by reducing or avoiding behaviors that increase the risk of monkeypox infection. Behaviors that increase risk include having multiple sexual partners, engaging in private and public sex parties, and any physical contact with someone who may have monkeypox.
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox and discuss them with your partner or potential partner so you can avoid physical contact if symptoms arise. If someone does have symptoms, the person should keep the rash covered and avoid any direct contact with others.
Vaccines are another method of prevention for monkeypox. However, the current monkeypox vaccines require two doses and will be the most effective two weeks after the second dose. Thus, it’s important to practice prevention behaviors between doses and for at least two weeks after the second dose.
Those who are at a higher risk of being exposed to monkeypox, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, should consider getting vaccinated to protect themselves and their community. If this is you, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should get the monkeypox vaccine.
Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?
There are currently two vaccines being used to prevent monkeypox: the JYNNEOS and ACAM2000 vaccines. These vaccines also protect against smallpox as the viruses hail from the same family. Because the current monkeypox outbreak is unprecedented, there is little data available on the effectiveness of the vaccines. However, since smallpox vaccinations became less common a few decades ago, the prevalence of monkeypox infections has increased.
To learn more about the available vaccines and if you should get vaccinated, visit the CDC’s website and talk to your doctor.
There is no specific treatment for monkeypox at this time, but most patients recover from monkeypox within 2-4 weeks without medical treatment. For patients who have a weakened immune system and are prone to becoming severely ill, doctors may employ antiviral medications used to treat smallpox. If you have been exposed to monkeypox, vaccination within 4 days may help prevent the onset of the disease or the severity of symptoms.
Is monkeypox deadly?
Monkeypox is a relatively mild disease that is typically not deadly. However, in rare cases, monkeypox can lead to death. In the current monkeypox outbreak, starting in May of 2022, the death rate is approximately 0.04%. The first reported death in the U.S. occurred in a person with a severely weakened immune system. Of the other reported deaths, 2 were due to brain swelling, which is a rare side effect of many viral illnesses. In addition to immunocompromised people, babies and pregnant women are at an increased risk of death from monkeypox.
Most people who become infected with the monkeypox virus will recover, but the disease can still be incredibly painful. Prevention is the best way to stop the spread and ensure the health of everyone at risk of contracting monkeypox.