What you need to know about Monkeypox

Seven questions and answers to get you up to speed on Monkeypox

1. What is monkeypox and what are the symptoms? 

Monkeypox (MPXV) is a virus in the poxvirus family such as cowpox, smallpox and others.  

Monkeypox symptoms usually appear five days to three weeks after exposure. Initial symptoms are often flu-like such as fever and chills, headache and fatigue followed by a rash or blisters. Blisters usually appear one to four days following initial symptoms. They can take many forms throughout the duration of illness. Blisters can appear on or near the genitals, anus and other areas such as the hands, feet, face, mouth and torso.  

One recent study found that among those with active monkeypox infections, most patients had fewer than 10 blisters or lesions, and many had only a single lesion. 

2. Where is monkeypox from, and where is it spreading to? 

Prior to April 2022, it was rare to observe cases of monkeypox outside of Africa. The recent outbreak is occurring largely in countries where monkeypox has not been regularly reported, indicating that the virus is spreading across the globe.  

Monkeypox has been considered endemic in African regions since the virus was first identified in 1970s. The recent global outbreak suggests changes in the virus, changes in behavior or both (Thornhill et al., 2022). Most U.S. cases have been among gay or bisexual men; however, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease.  

3. How many people have monkeypox? 

View up-to-date monkeypox numbers using the following resources: 

Some researchers believe that the virus is more widespread than is currently known, possibly due to monkeypox infections being misdiagnosed as sexually transmitted infections or left undiagnosed entirely. 

4. How is monkeypox spread? 

Monkeypox is spread in three primary ways:

  1. From an infected animal (non-human mammals, especially rodents, are a natural reservoir) 
  2. Person-to-person physical contact
  3. Contaminated objects

This includes skin-to-skin contact, contact with contaminated objects and/or clothing or fabric (e.g., bedding), as well as through respiratory droplets. The most common way is through direct contact (skin-to-skin) with someone who has the virus. Direct contact includes sexual contact, hugging and kissing. The current U.S. spread seems to be most common among men who have sex with men. Other close physical contact can cause the spread, but that is rare and usually occurs within households.  

5. How can monkeypox be prevented? 

The first and most effective public health measure is good hand hygiene. Washing hands often with warm soapy water or using alcohol-based sanitizer is an important preventive measure. Other effective measures are avoiding skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash and avoiding touching objects that a person with monkeypox has touched.  

View CDC guidance on reducing risk during sexual activities. 

6. Why was monkeypox declared a “public health emergency”? 

When the government declares a public health emergency, it establishes a 90-day window (which can be extended) that opens additional grant funding opportunities. This allows health care professionals to access treatment and other medical supplies and increases interagency data-sharing agreements that support the overall response. This assists public health and health care agencies in quickly identifying at-risk populations and treating infected individuals quickly to reduce spread. Traditionally, the case-fatality rate has been between 1 percent and 10 percent. There have been no reported deaths from the current U.S. outbreak. 

7. Is there a monkeypox vaccine? 

There are two monkeypox vaccines currently available, although supplies are limited. Vaccination will first prioritize high-risk individuals. The two-dose vaccine Jynneos is currently FDA-approved to prevent smallpox and monkeypox in adults 18 and older. The vaccine is 85 percent effective. Most cases resolve on their own without a need for advanced medical treatment or hospitalization.

Accurate resources and information during public health emergencies are vital to stopping the spread of disease and protecting lives. The CDC offers clinical guidance for providers on how to prevent, diagnose and treat Monkeypox and protocols for PPE and infection control strategies in health care settings. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) website offers information on the vaccine, including the eligible population, administration and vaccination sites.

The expert family medicine providers at the Des Moines University Clinic can help you and your loved ones stay healthy. For more information or to make an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1710.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Rachel Reimer

Rachel Reimer, Ph.D., is a Professor and Chair of the Master of Health Care Administration and Master of Public Health programs at DMU.

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