Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease, meaning the virus was initially transmitted from animals to humans. Primates and certain rodents have been known to carry the monkeypox virus, though the World Health Organization (WHO) is still studying the origin of the virus and how it circulates between species. Historically, the disease has mostly been found in African countries, but in May of 2022, it started appearing in other locations around the world.
As of the first week of June, 2022, there are only 35 confirmed cases of a monkeypox virus infection in the United States. So how do you get the monkeypox virus, what are its symptoms, and how can we prevent the spread of the monkeypox virus from human to human?
The monkeypox virus looks similar to many other viruses in its early stages. People often report achy, feverish, flu-like symptoms at first, followed by headaches, chills, and exhaustion. One early-stage symptom that distinguishes monkeypox from other pox viruses is the presence of swollen lymph nodes — the lymphatic system is linked to your immune system, and swollen lymph nodes are a sure sign that your body is working hard to fight off infection.
Within 1-3 days of fever onset, patients may develop an itchy rash, or even pus-filled blisters. This type of skin eruption is typically concentrated on the face or extremities (such as the arms, hands, legs, and feet) rather than the trunk (the torso, chest, and back).
While monitoring these symptoms can help you make an informed decision about whether or not you might be ill, only a medical professional can offer a true diagnosis. To properly diagnose the disease, healthcare providers will take a sample of the fluids from the rash, and perform a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to differentiate it from other possible diseases that also include rashes.
While there is no monkeypox virus vaccine, the smallpox vaccine has been shown to be effective against the disease. People who received the smallpox vaccine have a greater immunity to monkeypox than those who were not inoculated. However, smallpox was successfully eradicated in the U.S. in 1972, which means younger generations have not received routine vaccinations.
Monkeypox has not proven to pose nearly as much of a threat as smallpox, or even the COVID-19 virus. For now, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) simply recommends proper hygiene and hand-washing techniques to avoid the spread of germs, and only recommends masks for people who are actively caring for infected individuals.
The monkeypox virus is a chordopoxvirinae, which is a subfamily of viruses in the family Poxviridae. Chickenpox is part of the Herpesviridae family, which includes the Epstein-Barr virus as well as all herpes viruses. Despite its name, chickenpox is not actually related to Poxviridae. Monkeypox and chickenpox both produce itchy, pus-filled rashes, but that is where the similarities end.
The monkeypox incubation period is between 7 and 14 days. This means that people can be infected with the virus for up to two weeks before they even realize they have it. Like COVID-19, the virus can be easily spread from person to person before symptoms even appear. Luckily, after the COVID-19 pandemic, most people take viral prevention measures seriously, which will hopefully prevent a large-scale monkeypox virus outbreak. Monkeypox infections usually resolve in 2-4 weeks.
Person-to-person transmission of the virus happens primarily through contact with sores and bodily fluids. It can also spread through respiratory droplets, which are dispersed when people cough, sneeze, or even have a prolonged conversation. It is also possible for people to contract the virus by handling clothing, bedding, or other materials that an infected person has used.
The monkeypox virus is not nearly as deadly as smallpox — the mortality rate falls between 1-4%.