Scientists around the world are paying close attention to an unusual increase in the number of cases of monkeypox.
In mid-May 2022, a person in Massachusetts tested positive for the virus after returning from travel to Canada. Since then, there have been nearly 6,000 confirmed monkeypox cases in the United States – including nearly 1,400 in New York and several in Monroe County. Scientists with the CDC are working to determine the origins of the cases and protect anyone else from the spread of the disease.
While rarely fatal, monkeypox infections can lead to very painful symptoms and lead to permanent scarring from rashes that may develop.
Our infectious disease experts at Rochester Regional Health share the basic details of this disease and what people need to know.
First discovered in the 1950s, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a pox virus. Its name is derived from its initial discovery in a colony of monkeys at a research facility. The first known human case was in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Monkeypox is primarily transmitted from animals to humans. This can be either through close contact between animals and humans, or by eating the meat of an infected animal that has not been thoroughly cooked.
The monkeypox virus can also be transmitted from human to human. It is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), as it can be spread through close, non-sexual physical contact.
From when a person is infected to when they first begin displaying symptoms, the time range is approximately 7-21 days.
Individuals infected with the virus will experience symptoms such as:
According to the CDC, an infected individual will show signs of a rash within 1-3 days of having a fever. The rash will typically start on the face and spread to other parts of the body.
Researchers describe the rash as initially flat, then becoming raised and filled with fluid that eventually hardens and crusts over before becoming a scab.
Typically, an individual who contracts monkeypox will have an illness lasting 2-4 weeks.
Suspected cases are tested for the virus using a sample taken directly from an individual’s rash. The sample is run through a PCR test to match the viral DNA sequence.
Most commonly, person-to-person transmission happens through close physical contact with a symptomatic individual. This can include:
An infected individual who is pregnant can spread the virus to a fetus via the placenta, or during or after birth through skin-to-skin contact.
Early data collected by the World Health Organization and the CDC suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have the majority of confirmed cases so far. However, CDC officials stress that monkeypox can affect anyone – regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
A monkeypox pandemic – like the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently in – is highly unlikely since the monkeypox virus spreads through close, direct physical contact. COVID-19 spreads through the air.
Approximately 90 percent of all monkeypox cases resolve after the infection period. In rare circumstances, some infected individuals can become severely ill or die from the virus.
It is highly unlikely that most people will come into contact with an individual infected with monkeypox. But for healthcare workers or someone who does come into contact, they can help prevent infection by:
If needed, there is several approved antiviral medications available via prescription, as well as a vaccine preventing infection of smallpox and monkeypox that was approved by the FDA in September 2019. Adults receiving the vaccine will need to get two doses four weeks apart. Similar to the COVID-19 vaccine, a person is not fully protected against the virus until two weeks after receiving their second dose.
The Monroe County Department of Public Health is offering monkeypox vaccination clinics for eligible individuals ages 18 and older. This includes gay or bisexual men, men who have sex with men, transgender men, gender non-conforming or gender non-binary individuals who have had multiple or anonymous sexual partnerships in the last 14 days.
People meeting these criteria are strongly encouraged to consider vaccination if:
Interested individuals can sign up online through the Public Health website.
If you have a rash that looks like monkeypox – even if you did not have contact with someone with monkeypox – consult with your primary care provider about what to do next.
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