Monkeypox, a disease that is similar to but less severe than smallpox, is spreading globally during the spring of 2022. Experts confirmed the first case of monkeypox in the United States on May 18, 2022.
Currently, the risk of getting monkeypox within the U.S. appears low. But U.S. public health officials are asking medical professionals to be ready to identify potential cases.
Learn more about the disease, including symptoms and how it spreads.
What Is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis, meaning it is a virus that passes from animals to humans. It causes a rare disease that creates similar symptoms to smallpox but is less severe overall. You can get monkeypox through contact with an infected animal or person.
Knowledge of monkeypox dates to 1958, when there were two outbreaks found in colonies of research monkeys.
Usually, monkeypox is found in western and central Africa. But in May 2022, countries around the world began reporting much higher case numbers than normal.
Many cases are occurring in Europe. These cases are the first reported in Europe without a known link to Africa, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
How Does Monkeypox Spread?
You can get monkeypox through contact with an infected animal or person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Monkeypox can enter your body through broken skin, through your respiratory tract, or through your eyes, nose, or mouth. You also can get it through sexual contact. But it is not a sexually transmitted infection.
The risk of transmission is generally low. Most human-to-human transmission happens through direct contact with pox lesions. But monkeypox can also spread by respiratory droplets, which requires prolonged face-to-face contact.
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What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox but usually less severe.
Common symptoms include:
- Muscle aches.
- Rash, typically developing on the face and moving to the extremities.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Back pain.
The rash usually goes through several stages — spots, bumps, fluid- and then pus-filled pox lesions, and finally scabs — before falling off.
The CDC says symptoms usually appear within seven to 14 days after infection. However, it could take more or less time for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms usually last for two to four weeks.
Is Monkeypox Treatable?
Two vaccines stockpiled by the U.S. government may be helpful to prevent the spread of monkeypox. However, unless directed by public health officials as part of an exposure, these are not necessary or available to the general public at this time.
Four medications may be available for the treatment of monkeypox, but none are approved specifically for monkeypox. Public health officials will direct the use of these medications.
Can I Prevent Monkeypox?
Vaccines to prevent monkeypox are not available to the general public at this time.
But you can protect yourself by avoiding prolonged contact with people or animals who are suspected of having monkeypox.
Health care workers and household members of people with monkeypox may be at greater risk. They should take greater precautions, including using personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining good hand hygiene.
Should I Be Worried About Monkeypox?
Monkeypox cases are generally mild and go away within a few weeks. But cases can be severe and life-threatening. In some African countries, the death rates from monkeypox are higher, approaching 10%.
As with any emerging health condition, you should stay up to date on the latest information. Follow sources like the CDC, FDA, and your local and state health officials for updated guidance.
At UPMC, we are committed to providing the latest information as this story continues to develop.
BBC, What Is Monkeypox, and How do You Catch It? Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monkeypox. Link
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Epidemiological Update: Monkeypox. Link
Daniel Victor, The New York Times, What to Know About Monkeypox. Link
World Health Organization, Monkeypox. Link
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