By Dr. Samer Koutoubi, M.D., Ph.D.
Department Chair, Public Health
The outbreak of monkeypox cases continues to increase around the world. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a cumulative total of 1,019 confirmed monkeypox cases have been reported in 29 countries as of June 6. In the United States, 31 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported as of June 6, but there have been no deaths so far.
Where Are These Monkeypox Cases Occurring?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Monkeypox has been reported to WHO from 23 Member States that are not endemic for monkeypox virus, across four WHO regions. The vast majority of reported cases so far have no established travel links to an endemic area and have presented through primary care or sexual health services.”
The CDC has issued a Travel Health Notice for Monkeypox in Multiple Countries with Alert Level-2, Practice Enhanced Precautions. As for COVID-19, the CDC continues to monitor COVID-19 cases around the word and issues travel recommendations as needed.
As a result of the high number of monkeypox cases reported worldwide, many people are wondering if they should be worried about infection and if this outbreak would rise to the level of a pandemic. But there are differences between the monkeypox virus and the coronavirus, including the origin, transmission methods, and symptoms.
The Origins of the Monkeypox Virus and the Coronavirus
Monkeypox is not a new virus, but it is mostly uncommon in many regions of the world, including the United States. It has been reported in:
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo and 11 other African countries in the 1970s
- The United States in 2003 (the first documented U.S. monkeypox outbreak) and in July and November of 2021
- Israel in September 2018
- Singapore in May 2019
- The United Kingdom in September 2018, December 2019, May 2021 and May 2022
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the origin of the coronavirus has not been positively identified to date. Scientific evidence thus far suggests that the coronavirus (also known as SARS-CoV-2) likely resulted from a natural viral evolution and jumped to people or to an animal host.
Why the Monkeypox Virus and the Coronavirus Are Different
Both monkeypox and COVID-19 are caused by viruses, but the two viruses are not the same. According to the WHO, monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease, and its virus is an enveloped, double-stranded DNA virus that belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus of the poxviridae family.
DNA viruses mutate at a slower rate than RNA single-stranded viruses. The coronavirus is an RNA single-stranded virus, which has allowed it to mutate rapidly and create such a high number of cases around the world.
There Are More Monkeypox Variants and Outbreaks Occurring
According to Healio, new genetic sequencing data indicate there are at least two separate monkeypox outbreaks underway outside of Africa. During a recent press briefing, Jennifer McQuiston, DVM, MS, the deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, stated: “As the monkeypox outbreak has continued, our laboratory scientists have been working to better understand how the U.S. cases might be linked to [cases in] Europe or other places…New analysis resulted in sequencing uploaded publicly today showing that in the U.S., we have seen at least two genetically distinct variants circulating.”
The Monkeypox Virus and the Coronavirus Are Transmitted Differently
The main transmission differences between the monkeypox virus and coronavirus is that the monkeypox virus is transmitted to humans from infected animals. Transmission of the monkeypox virus can occur through several methods:
- Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal
- Handling wild game
- Using products made from infected animals
- Having direct skin-to-skin contact with body fluids or skin sores on a person infected with monkeypox
- Touching clothes or linens that have been in contact with the body fluids or sores of an infected person
On the other hand, people can get sick with COVID-19 through airborne transmission of the coronavirus. This method of transmission allows the coronavirus to spread quickly and easily from human to human.
According to the CDC, the coronavirus is transmitted from host to host when someone is exposed to respiratory fluids carrying the coronavirus. This exposure occurs in three main ways:
- Someone inhales very fine respiratory droplets and aerosol particles containing the coronavirus.
- Infected respiratory droplets and particles come into contact with the exposed mucous membranes in someone’s mouth, nose, or eyes.
- Someone touches their mouth, nose or eyes with hands that have been sprayed with virus-containing respiratory fluids or by touching surfaces with the coronavirus on them.
Contrasting the Symptoms of Monkeypox and COVID-19
According to the CDC, the monkeypox virus incubation period is an average of seven to 14 days, which is longer than the incubation period of coronavirus. Both monkeypox and COVID-19 have similar initial symptoms, including headache, fever, muscle ache, chills, and fatigue. People with monkeypox may also have swollen lymph nodes and skin rashes on their bodies.
COVID-19 symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus. In addition to the initial symptoms, COVID-19 patients may also experience:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
How Contagious Is Monkeypox and Will Quarantines Be Needed?
Monkeypox is not considered to be highly contagious. Also, an outbreak is more easy to detect and control since people with monkeypox have a visible skin rash.
By contrast, COVID-19 is much more contagious. People infected with the coronavirus can spread the disease before they get sick and have visible symptoms.
According to the Washington Post, President Biden said that he did not believe a quarantine to prevent the spread of monkeypox in the United States would be necessary, saying there are sufficient vaccine doses available to combat any serious flare-up of the disease.
Related link: How Concerned Should You Be about Contracting Monkeypox?
How Can We Treat Monkeypox?
According to the CDC, there is no proven, safe treatment for a monkeypox virus infection. However, smallpox vaccinations can control a monkeypox outbreak.
According to WDSU News, President Joe Biden says monkeypox is not as concerning as COVID-19. During a recent visit to Japan, Biden stated, “We have had this monkeypox in large numbers in the past….We have vaccines to take care of it. I just don’t think it rises to the level of concern that existed with COVID-19.”
Related link: Why It’s Imperative to Cultivate More Nurse Leaders
What to Do If You Suspect You Have a Monkeypox Infection
According to the CDC, anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox should talk to their healthcare provider immediately. The CDC also notes that certain individuals are at higher risk for contracting monkeypox, including:
- Individuals who had contact with someone who had a rash that resembles monkeypox or someone who had a confirmed case of monkeypox
- Anyone having skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, especially males who meet other male partners through dating websites, apps or social events
- People who traveled to a country with confirmed monkeypox cases or outbreaks
- Individuals who touched a live or dead wild animal or exotic pet that exists only in Africa
- People who used a product derived from infected animals, such as game meat, creams, lotions and powders.
Viruses Should Never Be Underestimated
We have learned expensive lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should not panic. Our experiences with COVID-19 have made us more prepared to handle any outbreak. However, we initially underestimated the seriousness of COVID-19, and we should never underestimate any virus and why it spreads globally.