Several cases of the rare viral disease Monkeypox have been spreading around the world, including a few in the US. But what exactly is Monkeypox, and do you need to be concerned about the unusual outbreak?
As reported by CNBC, monkeypox is an exceedingly rare disease, and for now, the cases in this current outbreak seem to be mostly confined to “men who have sexual relations with other men,” according to the World Health Organization.
Unlike COVID, Monkeypox is not easily transmitted, and infection requires close, intimate contact, like that through sexual activity.
As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed one case of the disease in Massachusetts and detected four probable cases, all found in men. Among the presumptive cases of monkeypox, one was detected in New York, one in Florida, and two were detected in Utah.
Exactly how and why the illness — which is typically passed from an infected animal to a human host — has cropped up, and spread across continents, remains a mystery.
However, despite the chances of the average person getting infected being exceedingly low, in an overabundance of precaution, officials with the said the agency is releasing doses of a smallpox vaccine in response to the few recent cases of monkeypox that have been detected in the US.
Jennifer McQuiston, the deputy director for the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said during a press briefing that more than a thousand doses of the Jynneos smallpox vaccine are currently available in the US, with more doses expected to become available as production ramps up.
Jynneos, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019, is manufactured by Bavarian Nordic, a biotechnology company headquartered in Denmark.
The vaccines will be designated for people who are most likely to benefit from them, McQuiston said, including those who are known to have had close contact with monkeypox patients, health care workers, and people who would be at high risk of developing a severe case of the disease.
The Jynneos vaccine is administered in two 0.5 mL doses four weeks apart. While it was designed for smallpox, it has proven to be very effective against the similar monkeypox.
McQuiston confirmed that there has been a request for the release of the Jynneos vaccine from the US national stockpile for high-risk contacts and said it was “actively happening right now.”
Apart from Jynneos, more than a million doses of the older-generation ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine are available, though CDC officials noted that this shot has some potential side effects that warrant discussion before widespread use.
The CDC officials stressed that the risk to the general public remains low, with McQuiston noting that there have been only a handful of likely cases detected in the US so far.
“Right now, the case count is low. So, I don’t think that there’s a great risk to the general community for monkeypox right now in the United States,” said McQuiston. “I think that we need to pay close attention to the communities in which this might be circulating so that we can communicate effectively with them and help bring this outbreak under control.”
What Is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral disease first discovered in 1958, originating in colonies of monkeys -hence the name. The first human to be diagnosed with monkeypox was in 1970, in the Democratic Republic of Congo — during a time when public health efforts in the region were focused on eliminating smallpox, which presents similarly with fever, aches, and pox-like lesions across the body. Until now, most cases of monkeypox in animals or humans have come out of central and western African countries.
“This [outbreak] is rare and unusual,” epidemiologist Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the UK Health Security Agency, said in a statement to the press announcing eight cases of the illness in England alone. “Exactly where and how they [the people] acquired their infections remains under urgent investigation,” the agency added.
Experts worry that the virus may be spreading rapidly, just below doctors’ radars, by unconventional means — sex — as several of the current cases appear to have had nothing to do with animals or travel to Africa, according to UKHSA.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Those infected with monkeypox will initially come down with a fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. Within one to three days after the virus takes hold, patients will develop a rash — pox — often starting with the face before spreading throughout the body. Pox lesions go through a gruesome process, beginning as flat sores that later become raised and filled with infected pus, then turn into scabs that eventually flake off — the whole cycle of which can take up to four weeks to complete.
How contagious is it?
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox transmission usually occurs through a relatively close exchange of bodily fluids, such as saliva traveling via cough or from contact with the pus-filled lesions of a monkeypox patient. That’s why cases are so rarely seen outside of Africa and, when they are, usually involve someone who recently traveled to the continent — as with one current patient who recently visited Nigeria. However, many of the cases now ongoing appear to be unconnected in that regard.
Though sexual intercourse is being investigated as a potential vehicle for the current outbreak, it could just as well be attributed to “close contact associated with sexual intercourse,” such as kissing, infectious diseases expert Keith Neal, from the University of Nottingham, UK, told the Associated Press.