7 Things To Know About Monkeypox

Viral disease declared a global health emergency

Posted on Aug 3, 2022

Graphic that reads "What is monkeypox?" with PIH logo.

As the world continues to battle COVID-19, another virus is making headlines.

Monkeypox, a viral disease known for rashes and lesions on the skin, has now infected more than 25,000 people worldwide, including in 76 countries where cases aren’t typically detected.

The current outbreak, which began in May, has since led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency.

Most patients recover on their own, after two to four weeks; but the disease has spread far beyond the 12 countries where it is typically found, sounding alarms worldwide and spurring calls for global vaccination.

Among the countries where PIH works, Peru is dealing with a major outbreak. Socios En Salud, as PIH is known in Peru, is working closely with the Ministry of Health and directly supporting people who have contracted monkeypox and their contacts in northern Lima.

Here are seven things to know about the disease:

1. What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms usually include a fever, severe headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes, and skin rashes or lesions. The rash usually begins within one to three days of the fever.

The lesions may be flat or slightly raised and filled with clear or yellowish fluid. Eventually, the lesions dry, scab, and fall off. Rashes tend to occur on the face, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet, but may also be found on the mouth, genitals, and eyes.

Symptoms usually last two to four weeks.

2. How is monkeypox transmitted?

Human-to-human transmission can occur through contact with the skin lesions of an infected person, mucus or saliva, or contaminated objects. It typically requires skin-to-skin contact.

Animal-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact with the blood, body fluids, skin lesions, or mucous membranes of infected animals. The animals that host this virus are often rodents or primates.

3. Is monkeypox a new disease?

Monkeypox is not a new disease. The virus has been considered endemic in 12 countries on the African continent for decades. But it has also previously occurred in the United States—the first outbreak in the U.S. was reported in 2003, spreading from prairie dogs to humans and affecting six states.

The current outbreak is causing worldwide concern due to its fast and far-reaching spread. But monkeypox is not nearly as contagious or as deadly as COVID-19. Unlike the coronavirus, monkeypox typically requires close physical contact with someone who is infected.

4. Is monkeypox fatal? 

The current outbreak has led to 10 deaths, mostly in Africa—where not a single dose of the vaccine is available.

In most cases, symptoms often resolve within a few weeks on their own, without treatment.

In some people, the virus can lead to medical complications. These complications—such as pneumonia or infections in the brain or eyes—can be fatal.

Newborns, children, and immuno-compromised people are most at risk for severe symptoms.

5. Is there a cure?

In the U.S., patients with severe disease are currently being treated with tecovirimat. This drug is not available in countries where PIH works.   

The U.S. has two vaccines approved for use, as prevention measures, and recently announced plans to scale up distribution domestically. But at the moment, the U.S. has no plan to distribute vaccines to other countries.

6. Who is most at risk of catching monkeypox?

Globally, men who have sex with men are currently at the highest risk of infection from this outbreak and comprise the vast majority of new monkeypox cases. However, susceptibility to the disease is not limited to people who are sexually active or to men who have sex with men.

Anyone can catch monkeypox. In African countries where monkeypox is endemic, like Liberia and Sierra Leone, monkeypox often infects children. It is vital to fight not only the spread of the virus, but also the spread of misinformation and stigma, which only further endangers marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ people and Black people.

7. How can I stay safe?

The World Health Organization currently recommends that men who have sex with men consider limiting their number of sexual partners to lower their risk of infection and reduce transmission.

The WHO also recommends avoiding skin-to-skin contact whenever possible, washing your hands regularly with soap or using hand sanitizer, and washing clothes, sheets, towels, and other items or surfaces that have been potentially exposed.

If you think you have symptoms, please isolate at home until you can be evaluated by a doctor.

Monkeypox testing is now widely available in the United States. If you have been in direct contact with someone infected, or have been at an event or location with a known monkeypox outbreak, please be on the lookout for symptoms, and consider getting vaccinated for monkeypox immediately.

For more information, visit the World Health Organization.

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