Published: Aug 08, 2022
By Dr. Sebastian Ruhs and Amit Dhir CRNP
Chase Brexton Health Care
In late July, the World Health Organization declared the growing monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, with U.S. health officials expected to make a similar declaration. As the outbreak has spread, questions over vaccine availability and preventative measures have grown.
To help curb misinformation which has accompanied these concerns, here are some facts about the monkeypox virus.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare but serious virus that causes flu-like symptoms and, most visibly, rashes, sores, or lesions on an infected person’s body. Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Symptoms of monkeypox can begin one to four days after exposure but can take as long as three weeks to appear. Initial symptoms include flu-like symptoms, with a rash eventually appearing on the body. Often, the rash progresses to sores or small bumps which become fluid-filled pustules that scab over and fall off. However, some people will experience a rash or sores followed by other symptoms, or experience only a rash and sores.
How does monkeypox spread?
It is important to note that people who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.
Monkeypox can be spread in several different ways, including:
- Coming in direct contact with an infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
- By respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact
- During intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
- Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta
- By touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
- By being scratched or bitten by an animal infected with monkeypox
- Or by eating meat or using products from an infected animal
Can I get vaccinated against monkeypox?
There are currently two FDA-licensed vaccines in the United States - JYNNEOS and ACAM2000—that can prevent monkeypox in people who may be exposed to the virus.
JYNNEOS has proven effective. However, vaccine supply currently available in the U.S. is very, very low, and is being distributed by federal and state officials to areas with ongoing outbreaks and greatest need.
A second shot of JYNNEOS several weeks after the first is often scheduled, but one dose has been shown to build effective immunity, decreasing the risk of infection and developing severe disease. Until more vaccine becomes available, some health departments in the country have chosen a strategy to only give out the first dose to have more vaccine for more people, rather than vaccinating less people but vaccinating them twice.
A second type of vaccine, ACAM2000, is older, has more side effects and is not recommended to be used in people who have certain health conditions, including weakened immune systems, eczema or pregnancy.
When properly administered before an exposure, vaccines are effective at protecting people against monkeypox.
How else can I protect myself?
- Because monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets, wearing a mask in crowded areas is a good idea, though travel plans probably do not need to be canceled at this time.
- Consider avoiding enclosed spaces where close dancing, sweating, or intimate contact might occur such as bathhouses, gyms or saunas where there may be a higher risk of monkeypox acquisition.
- Poxviruses can survive on linens, clothing and surfaces for as long as 15 days or longer, particularly when in dark, cool, and low humidity environments. Use wet cleaning – not dusting – to disinfect surfaces. Avoid sharing linens and launder clothes with soap and water immediately but do not ‘shake’ them out before washing – this can spread the virus.
- Use hand sanitizer while in public and EPA-registered disinfectant on potentially contaminated surfaces.
If I think I’ve been exposed, what should I do?
You should seek medical evaluation with your health care provider if you develop a rash that you believe is consistent with monkeypox. Talk to your health care provider if you are concerned about monkeypox, and whether you recently had close contact with someone who had a similar rash or who has been diagnosed with monkeypox.
What if I do get monkeypox? How bad is it, and what do I need to do?
Fortunately, most cases of monkeypox do not result in death. The lesions can be uncomfortable, but are generally not debilitating. For the most part, the pain can be managed with standard over-the-counter medications. As of this writing, no deaths attributed to monkeypox have been reported in the U.S.
With all cases of monkeypox, patients are advised to isolate themselves from contact, typically for between two to four weeks. It’s important to allow time for the lesions to dry, scab over, then fall off. Until then, there is a chance that you could spread the virus to others.
Where can I go for more information?
The best sources of information, including updates on vaccine availability and appointments, are your local and state health departments. Additional resources and information on monkeypox can be found at:
- The CDC’s monkeypox resource page – https://cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/
- The Baltimore City Health Department – health.baltimorecity.gov/monkeypox.
- The Maryland Department of Health’s page – https://health.maryland.gov/phpa/OIDEOR/Pages/monkeypox.aspx
- For more information on Chase Brexton’s Infectious Diseases Center of Excellence, including Monkeypox resources, please visit www.chasebrexton.org/monkeypox.