Recent cases of monkeypox in the United States and several other countries have many people wondering about the virus, and whether the world is facing another pandemic like COVID-19.
The good news is that monkeypox is very different from COVID-19 and is generally not easily spread between humans. However, it is still a serious virus that can cause severe illness and, in some cases, turn fatal.
There are two strains of monkeypox: the Congo Basin strain, thought to have a fatality rate of 10%; and the West African strain with a fatality rate of about 1%.
The first signs of monkeypox typically include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue. Within days of the first symptoms, a telltale rash develops, often starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body. The rash progresses into lesions that eventually crust over and form scabs that fall off in approximately two to four weeks. However, some patients did not experience any other symptoms prior to developing lesions, which began in the genital and perianal region rather than on the face.
The incubation period for monkeypox from the time of exposure to the appearance of the rash is usually between 5 and 21 days. A person is considered infectious from the onset of symptoms and is presumed to remain infectious until lesions have crusted, those crusts have separated, and a fresh layer of healthy skin has formed underneath.
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is generally not easily spread between humans, which is thought to primarily occur through large respiratory droplets that are spread with prolonged face-to-face contact (within a six-foot radius in the absence of an N95 or filtering respirator for three or more hours). Other means of human-to-human transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesions, and indirect contact with lesion material through contaminated clothing or bedding.
The fact that not all the individuals infected traveled to West or Central Africa suggests the possibility that the virus has become more transmissible. However, the mode or modes of transmission are under active investigation, and there is no proof yet that the virus has changed to become more transmissible.
As of May 25, 2022, the CDC has confirmed nine cases of monkeypox in Massachusetts, Florida, Utah, Washington, California, Virginia and New York.
While there is no treatment for monkeypox specifically, antiviral medication typically used to treat smallpox may be prescribed.
Because monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can protect people from getting monkeypox. The CDC reports that past data from Africa suggests that the smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox.