By Dr. Samer Koutoubi, M.D., Ph.D.
Department Chair, Public Health
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox has been reported as of May 21, 2022. The good news, however, is that no deaths have been reported so far.
In the United States, at least three cases have been documented. The first patient was a Massachusetts man who traveled to Canada, the second case was in New York City and the third case was in Florida.
According to WHO, more cases of monkeypox have been identified around the globe, especially in nonendemic countries in Europe and North America as well as in Australia. Normally, cases have traditionally been reported in West and Central Africa.
There is a lot of new data and findings regarding monkeypox outbreaks. As a result, many people are wondering if they should be worried about infection.
Related link: COVID-19 Vaccination vs. Natural Immunity: Which Is Better?
The History of Monkeypox
Monkeypox is not a new virus. It was first reported in the 1970s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in 11 other African countries.
In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak was documented in the United States of America and was linked to patients’ contact with infected prairie dogs kept as pets. Later, 47 confirmed cases of monkeypox were reported from six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The pets were infected after being housed near small mammals imported from Ghana. These U.S. patients were the first cases of monkeypox reported outside of Africa.
Since then, monkeypox has also been reported in travelers from Nigeria going to:
- Israel in September 2018
- The United Kingdom in September 2018, December 2019, May 2021 and May 2022
- Singapore in May 2019
- United States of America in July and November 2021
Many Patients Have Been Gay or Bisexual Men
The monkeypox outbreaks have affected one particular segment of the world’s population. According to Dr. John Brooks, the CDC’s Chief Medical Officer in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, “Anyone, anyone, can develop [and] spread a monkeypox infection, but … many of those affected in the current global outbreak identified as gay and bisexual men.”
According to the South China Morning Post, WHO says that there is an urgent need to identify a series of measures to prevent any further spread of monkeypox: “The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox without any travel history to an endemic area in multiple countries is atypical; hence, there is an urgent need to raise awareness about monkeypox and undertake comprehensive case finding and isolation [provided with supportive care], contact tracing and supportive care to limit further onwards transmission.”
How Is the Monkeypox Virus Transmitted?
The monkeypox virus is monkeypox virus is transmitted to humans from infected animals to humans from animals. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if a cut in the skin is not visible), the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth).
Animal-to-human transmission may occur by several methods. A human may contract the virus through an animal’s bite or scratch, bush meat preparation, direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, or indirect contact with lesion material (such as contaminated bedding).
Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required. Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or bed linens.
Related link: Long COVID: Symptoms, Possible Causes and Treatments
What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?
Monkeypox symptoms are very similar to smallpox, including headache, fever, muscle ache, chills and fatigue. The lymph nodes are also affected and appear swollen.
The incubation period (the time from infection to symptoms) for the disease is usually seven to 14 days but it can also range from five to 21 days. Within one to three days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a rash that often begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body. The illness typically lasts from two to four weeks.
While there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox virus infection, the good news is that smallpox vaccinations can control the monkeypox outbreak.
The CDC Has Issued Guidelines for the Public and for Healthcare Providers
According to the CDC, people who suspect they were exposed to or have symptoms of monkeypox should contact a healthcare provider. This includes anyone who:
- Traveled to central or west African countries, European countries where cases have been reported, or other areas with confirmed cases of monkeypox during the month before symptoms began
- Reports contact with a person with confirmed or suspected monkeypox
- Is a man who regularly has close or intimate contact with other men, including men who meet partners through a website, a mobile app, a bar, or a party
The CDC and public health officials in affected U.S. states are collaborating with WHO and other agencies to monitor the development of the monkeypox virus, identify the source of infection and limit its spread. Healthcare providers have learned a lot from COVID-19, and there are internal protocols for monitoring any new cases of the monkeypox virus. In addition, there have been ongoing efforts to educate the public about this disease.
The CDC has also issued guidance for healthcare providers. According to the CDC website, the CDC “is urging healthcare providers in the U.S. to be alert for patients who have rash illnesses consistent with monkeypox, regardless of whether they have travel or specific risk factors for monkeypox and regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”
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