Key facts you need to know about monkeypox

Illness spreads through close contact with skin, especially rashes

Cute little girl and her mother are washing hands under running water.

Due to the rapid spread of monkeypox worldwide, the World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global health emergency.

Monkeypox cases continue to increase in the United States, including in the Upper Midwest, where Sanford Health is based.

You can protect yourself and others with normal precautions recommended to prevent other diseases, according to Jennifer Hsu, M.D., infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health.

Signs to look for

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that turns into pus-filled blisters, or lesions.

Some people will have only a rash without the other symptoms.

“Monkeypox is generally spread through close contact — skin-to-skin contact primarily, particularly when folks who have monkeypox have the active rash,” Dr. Hsu said. “It can be spread in other ways through respiratory secretions. But again, it requires really close and prolonged contact.”

Who gets monkeypox?

The virus variant that is circulating is from West Africa, and is milder than a Central African variant. Its infection fatality rate is estimated at 1% and even lower in the United States, where patients are more likely to have been healthy, young people.

Dr. Hsu said early reports of this monkeypox outbreak happened to be among men who have sex with men. But that simply means sexual transmission is a risk because it’s close contact.

“It has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” she said. “And so I want to be extra clear that we are not stigmatizing any one particular population who’s at risk for this. It really, again, is that very close, household, skin-to-skin, intimate contact that transmits this. And so I would say anybody is at risk.”

Treatments for monkeypox

Typical monkeypox treatment is for symptoms, Dr. Hsu said — controlling people’s fevers, treating dehydration with IV fluids, and other supportive measures.

“If patients have more severe disease, there are antiviral medicines that have been used, and we would evaluate the need for that specific treatment just on a case-by-case basis, depending on someone’s specific other health issues,” she said.

Preventing monkeypox

The smallpox vaccine gives some protection against monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization. However, smallpox was eliminated worldwide in 1980, and people younger than 40 or 50 (depending on the country they live in) would not have received the smallpox vaccine.

Newer vaccines have been developed that address monkeypox, but they are not widely available yet.

You can prevent spreading monkeypox infection by avoiding close contact with people who are infected. Take these prevention measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
    • Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox.
    • Do not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox.
    • Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.
    • Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • In Central and West Africa, avoid contact with animals that can spread monkeypox virus, usually rodents and primates. Also, avoid sick or dead animals, as well as bedding or other materials they have touched.

If you are sick with monkeypox:

  • Isolate at home.
  • If you have an active rash or other symptoms, stay in a separate room or area away from people or pets you live with, when possible.

“I think as we talk about with a lot of infections, whether we’re talking about influenza or COVID-19, the biggest thing is if you’re noticing symptoms is to see your physician or your health care provider to review,” said Dr. Hsu. “I wouldn’t say it’s anything to fear at this point, but I think it’s worth being vigilant. And as a community member, just being vigilant about our own health protects the people around us.”

The World Health Organization has more on monkeypox.

Learn more

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