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Should You Be Worried About Monkeypox?

Should You Be Worried About Monkeypox?

If you’ve been near a TV or held a smartphone in your hand recently, you’ve probably heard about an outbreak of monkeypox. Given the last couple years, it’s understandable if news of another outbreak is exhausting. But should you have to worry about monkeypox? Will it sweep across the globe forcing shutdowns and disrupting daily life? For now, doctors say most people shouldn’t be too concerned, but if you’re in an at-risk group, you should be a little extra careful in certain situations.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It’s part of the same family as the smallpox virus but its symptoms are usually less serious. Monkeypox does not come from monkeys. It became known as monkeypox because it was discovered in the late 1950s in a group of monkeys used for research. It is a zoonotic virus, which means it can be spread from animals to humans. The first human case of the virus was recorded in 1970. Monkeypox is endemic in several countries and is commonly found in Central and West Africa.

Who is at risk of monkeypox?

Anyone can be infected with monkeypox. Infection comes from close, prolonged contact with an infected person, contaminated clothing or bedding, or respiratory secretions. Based on this current outbreak, certain populations including men who have sex with men (MSM), are being hit hard by monkeypox. But this disease is not exclusive to this community. Other people who may be at a higher risk, due to the nature of their jobs, are healthcare workers. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly, children under 8 years of age, and pregnant people may have a heightened risk for a more severe case if infected.

How do you get it?

Should you be afraid to leave the house? Is there a risk going to the movie theater? Not according to experts. Monkeypox is harder to catch than COVID-19 or the flu because it takes prolonged close physical contact with a person who is infected. It can be spread by the following:

  1. Direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or bodily fluids
  2. Hugging and kissing
  3. Prolonged face to face contact
  4. Sexual contact
  5. Touching objects, fabrics and surfaces used by someone infected
  6. Contact with respiratory secretions

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, and it is not yet known if it is spread through semen or vaginal fluids. Infected animals can make you sick if they bite or scratch you. A pregnant person can spread the virus to their unborn baby through the placenta. According to the CDC, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you could be at more risk of becoming more ill if you are infected. Monkeypox is contagious from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off and new skin is forming. The total time it takes for all that to happen and for the illness to pass is usually 2 – 4 weeks.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of monkeypox are like smallpox symptoms but milder, often starting with flu-like symptoms followed by the development of a rash. Some people will experience all or a few symptoms. Some patients may experience the rash before the flu-like symptoms. And some patients may only experience a rash. Typically, symptoms appear within 3 weeks after exposure.

Symptoms include:

  1. Fever
  2. Headache
  3. Muscle aches
  4. Swollen lymph nodes
  5. Chills
  6. Exhaustion
  7. Sore throat
  8. Dry cough
  9. Trouble breathing (in serious cases)
  10. Rash (hands, feet, chest, face or mouth, genitals, or anus)

How to prevent getting it.

Protecting yourself from infection can be as simple as avoiding known infection risks.

  1. Avoid close skin to skin contact with a person with monkeypox.
  2. Don’t touch the rash or scabs of an infected person.
  3. Don’t hug, kiss, cuddle or have sex with a person with monkeypox.
  4. Stay away from bedding and clothing touched by an infected person or animal.

If you must be in close contact with a person or animal with monkeypox, use protective gear such as goggles, mask and gloves, and wash your hands often.

What to do if you get it.

If you think you’ve been exposed or have symptoms, get yourself checked out by your health provider. Though not yet widely available, a PCR test can confirm that you have monkeypox. There is no specific treatment for monkeypox. If you are sick with monkeypox, isolate at home and keep separate from family and pets. Your doctor can help you to feel comfortable by recommending plenty of fluids, rest and over-the-counter drugs.

Because the monkeypox virus is part of the smallpox family, vaccines developed to protect against smallpox can also be used as protection from monkeypox infection and to reduce symptoms after exposure. For people with a higher risk of exposure to monkeypox, like frontline healthcare workers, and for those who have been exposed, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated.