How worried should monkeypox sufferers be? Should everyone try to get the vaccine? Who are the groups at risk and what should they do? How exactly is monkeypox spread and how can people avoid contracting it? What are the common symptoms to look out for?
CNN: How does monkeypox spread? Is it contagious like Covid-19, another disease we now know better?
Dr. Liana Wen: Monkey pox is not as contagious as Covid-19. As we know, Covid-19 is highly contagious and can be spread through microscopic aerosols. This means you can catch the virus from someone you’re casually talking to, or someone you’re sharing a conference room or restaurant with.
Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through prolonged, direct, skin-to-skin contact. In most cases, this is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, but is associated with intercourse. Conversely, monkeypox can be transmitted through intimate contact such as kissing, hugging, petting and sexual intercourse.
CNN: What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Wen: People with monkeypox often develop fever, headache, muscle aches, and general fatigue, similar to many other viral illnesses. Many people also have swollen lymph nodes. They then develop a rash that turns into blisters, pimples, or sores. Ulcers can be anywhere on the body or only in one place. It can just be localized to the anal or genital area, face, inside the mouth or any other part of the body.
Clinicians seeing patients with fever and new rash should have a low threshold for testing for monkeypox, especially if the patient is at high risk for monkeypox. Importantly, a recent study also found that 29% of people infected with monkeypox had genital infections. I think that just because a patient is diagnosed with one thing doesn’t mean they can’t have something else, and that high-risk patients with new lesions should be tested to rule out monkeypox.
CNN: What started monkeypox and how widespread is it in the United States?
Wen: Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as the smallpox virus. It was first discovered in monkeys in 1958, hence its name, but its usual animal hosts are rodents and other small mammals. It first appeared in humans in East Africa in the 1970s. It is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and sometimes occurs when infected travelers bring the disease to their home countries. In 2003, there was a large outbreak in the United States caused by imported rodents.
CNN: Who are the people most at risk of contracting monkeypox?
CNN: Are there any deaths from monkeypox?
CNN: How concerned should people be about monkeypox?
Wen: Because monkeypox is common, it is not a concern for most Americans. However, gays, bisexuals, and those who have sex with other men, who have intimate relationships with multiple or anonymous partners, are at higher risk.
CNN: Should everyone try to get the monkeypox vaccine?
Wen: A horse. First, the monkeypox vaccine is now very limited. So far, about 300,000 doses of the two-dose vaccine have been delivered, far fewer than the 1.5 million people the CDC estimates are eligible.
I hope that soon enough vaccine will be available so that people in high-risk groups can get it. But given the prevalence of monkeypox, most Americans are unlikely to contract it, and a mass vaccination campaign aimed at the general population is not recommended anytime soon.
CNN: Will monkeypox become another endemic virus in the US?
Wen: I really hope so. It is still possible to catch monkeypox through testing and vaccination. I hope that the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency will encourage more countries, including our own, to do their best to prevent monkeypox from spreading and becoming endemic here.