- A new survey by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy shows that about 20% of people worry about getting monkeypox.
- The monkeypox virus is not new and there is a vaccine. But many Americans don’t believe or trust that a vaccine exists.
- Monkeypox is a serious health problem, but it is usually not fatal. Still, experts say education, caution and vaccinations are important if necessary.
News of a virus called monkeypox began making headlines in the United States in May
On May 18, the first person from Massachusetts was confirmed in the United States.
More than two months later, two states – New York and California – declared a state of emergency due to the monkeypox outbreak.
The terminology may sound familiar – COVID-19 is still considered a global pandemic. Now, there’s another health issue to worry about, and according to a national survey by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy, 1 in 5 Americans is at risk of developing monkeypox.
This is a lower rate than people who fear contracting COVID (1 in 3), but 48% do not know which of the two viruses is more contagious.
Annenberg found another problem with information about monkeypox: 66% neither believed nor believed there was a monkeypox vaccine.
In addition, misinformation and disinformation about monkeypox is spreading faster than the virus.
To help raise awareness and dispel misconceptions, we asked health professionals to answer questions about monkeypox and how people can best protect themselves. Here’s what they had to say.
“Monkeypox is a viral infection from the same family as the smallpox virus,” explains Dr. Thomas Yadegar, MD, medical director of the intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center. “It’s a self-limiting disease, so the infection should resolve itself over time.”
Although people in the US are just learning about monkeypox, it is not a new virus.
“Monkeypox virus was first discovered in monkeys in 1958 and then in humans in the early 1970s,” says Rachel Cox, DNP, FNP-BC, assistant professor in the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing. “Although the symptoms of monkeypox and smallpox are similar, monkeypox is generally milder and less likely to be fatal.”
Symptoms of cox monkeypox include:
- don’t hesitate
- body is found
- to be tired
- a headache
- respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, cough and nasal congestion
- swollen lymph nodes
Cox says further rashes may occur:
- a mouth
- the foot
“The rash usually starts as flat sores that look like blisters or pimples, then fill with fluid and pus,” says Cox. There are rashes, and the skin can be very sensitive and painful. “The rash often scabs or flakes and then falls off, leaving scars on the skin.”
Currently, most cases of monkeypox occur in men who have sex with other men. However, Dr. Michael Chang, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, emphasized that no one is immune to monkeypox infection. It doesn’t care about your sexual orientation, age or health.
“Monkeypox can infect anyone – children and adults, healthy or immunocompromised,” says Chang.
According to Chang, the main form of infection is skin-to-skin contact. This communication may include:
- monkeypox rash, scabies, or body fluids, including direct contact with the respiratory tract of a person with monkeypox
- close or direct contact, usually defined as sexual activity, hugging, kissing, or prolonged face-to-face contact
- touching unwashed objects, fabrics (clothes, sheets, or towels) and surfaces used by a person with monkeypox
Chang added that a pregnant person can transmit the virus to the fetus through the placenta.
“In the past, monkeypox has actually been linked to infected animals in children, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the current outbreak,” adds Chang. “A 2003 outbreak in the United States was traced to infected prairie dogs.”
Monkey pox is not a sexually transmitted infection. But Erica Susky, a Toronto-based infection control specialist, says people are calling it wrong.
“It’s a misconception that it’s a sexually transmitted infection, but intimate non-sexual contact can also be a source of transmission,” says Suski. “For example, skin-to-skin contact, hugging, kissing and face-to-face contact. All of these contacts may not be sexual, but sex is also an opportunity for transmission of the virus.
Although monkeypox can be transmitted sexually, that’s not the primary mode—skin-to-skin contact—so it’s not considered an STD.
“This type of monkeypox is rarely fatal,” says Dr. Douglas Chiriboga of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. “The type of monkeypox we’re dealing with now is the West African type.”
But Chiriboga and others warn that some populations are dying.
“Could be [deadly] for unvaccinated children and immunocompromised populations,” Chang said.
Cox added that previous outbreaks have seen deaths ranging from 1 to 10 percent of the population.
“Researchers are currently learning more about how to treat the disease and prevent serious complications,” Cox says.
Currently, there is no specific cure for monkeypox, says Dr. Jay Varma, Kroll’s chief medical advisor, is a fellow at the Kroll Institute and director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Control.
However, there are some treatment methods. Varma explains that doctors can get Tecovirimat (brand name TPOXX) from the CDC.
“During this outbreak, some patients who received this drug reported that it helped their rash clear up faster and significantly reduce pain,” says Varma.
Cox reiterated that monkeypox was a self-limiting disease.
“Monkey pox usually goes away on its own after two to four weeks,” says Cox. “However, children and those with certain medical conditions can become seriously ill.”
According to Varma, people are getting one of two vaccines that are effective against smallpox:
- ACAM2000, the original smallpox vaccine
- JYNNEOS, a new vaccine
The vaccine is thought to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, but research is currently limited.
“Researchers are conducting patient studies during this outbreak to accurately assess how well the vaccine protects in real life,” says Varma.
- have been exposed to monkeypox in the past 4-14 days
- have certain occupations, such as laboratory workers, who work directly with animals that have orthopoxviruses that pose a risk of infection to humans
If monkeypox is rarely fatal, why are states declaring emergencies? Why did he do it?
“In most patients, monkeypox causes severe pain and discomfort in many parts of the body for several weeks,” says Varma. “In some cases, the disease can be so severe that permanent scarring requires hospitalization, the rash can leave permanent scars on the skin or become infected with bacteria, and/or the disease can damage the brain, eyes, and brain.”
Varma also notes that for other viruses, including COVID-19, health care workers and scientists have not found other effects similar to long-lasting COVID-19.
As Susky noted, this poses an even more serious threat to children and vulnerable populations with weakened immune systems.
People with monkeypox are contagious until the rash is completely gone, Varma notes.
“This means that the blister has turned into a scab, the scab has formed and fallen off, and new skin is now covering the area where the blister and scab used to be,” he says.