Even though we aren’t done with the COVID-19 pandemic, another health emergency is beginning. Monkeypox was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization on July 23. It is not at pandemic or epidemic status like COVID, but it is spreading rapidly. I’d like to use this month’s article to discuss the disease and what we know about it now.
Monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox, but causes a disease with milder symptoms and is rarely deadly. It was discovered in 1958 and the source of the virus is still unknown. The first human case was discovered in 1970 in several African countries. Prior to this year, almost all cases outside of Africa were related to international travel. As we are seeing now, this is no longer the case.
The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to COVID in a few ways, but different is some pretty significant ones. Symptoms can include: fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, sore throat, congestion, cough, and a rash. The rash can be on the genital area or hands, feet, chest, face or mouth. The lesions look like pimples or blisters and go through a progression to scabbing over before healing. Patients may have all or a few symptoms. The rash can appear before the other symptoms. Most patients will have a rash. The symptoms start within 3 weeks of exposure. If you have the flu-like symptoms, the rash usually starts within 1-4 days. The infection can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed completely.
The virus is spread by close, often skin-to-skin, contact with someone with the virus. The contact can be direct—by touching the rash, scabs or body fluids of an infected person—or, it can be indirect—by touching objects or fabrics used by someone with monkeypox. Scientists are still studying whether the virus can be transmitted by someone who has no symptoms or if it can be spread by respiratory or other body secretions.
At this time, there is no specific, approved treatment for monkeypox. The disease is often mild and simply runs its course. However, for those with weakened immune systems, it can be more serious. The CDC recommends healthcare providers reach out to them when treatment is indicated. Treatments currently being considered are antiviral medications used to treat smallpox.
Vaccination is available for those at risk. Those are patients who have been in contact with someone with monkeypox or sexual partners of someone with monkeypox. Preventive vaccination for others is currently not recommended.
To reduce the risk of getting monkeypox, avoid places and events where there can be close, skin-to-skin contact with others. Places like a summer concert in a crowded group or a packed night club should probably be avoided.
While there are many unknowns about this spreading infection, we do know, as I said earlier, that the symptoms for most people are mild and resolve over time. As with COVID, please rely on trusted sources like the CDC, at www.cdc.gov, for more information.
Michael Dominguez, MD, FAAFP is board certified in Family Medicine. His office is located at HealthTexas Medical Group, 590 N. General McMullen, 78228, phone: 210-249-0212.