Do You Need To Worry About Monkeypox?

Katherine Vaughan's picture
By Katherine Vaughan on July 5, 2022

Monkeypox is in the news. Should we be concerned about it in the community?
 
By issuing a mid-level travel alert rather than a warning against nonessential travel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a qualified “no,” together with prevention measures, as an answer.
 
“Risk to the general public is low,” says the CDC. “Monkeypox does not occur naturally in the United States, but cases have happened that were associated with international travel or importing animals from areas where the disease is more common.”
 
The agency offers a brief history of U.S. monkeypox outbreaks on its website—brief because there have been few outbreaks here at all.
 
The current outbreak began in May 2022. The virus has been found in countries that do not normally experience monkeypox. At this writing, there have been 460 confirmed cases in the United States, with only 11 of them in Virginia.

Early data from the CDC suggest that men who have sex with men comprise a notable proportion of cases. However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk. The Virginia Department of Health is monitoring the outbreak closely.

What is Monkeypox? 

Monkeypox is a rare illness caused by the monkeypox virus, and it’s nothing new. The first case was discovered in 1958 in laboratory monkeys, leading to its name. Today, the disease is mostly spread by rodents and from person to person.

graphic illustration of monkeypox symptoms
If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, reach out to your primary care provider or an urgent care center near you.

Monkeypox is a contagious illness like other pox diseases, such as smallpox, but generally much less severe. (Chickenpox is caused by an unrelated virus.) The symptoms of an infection may include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Headache 
  • Body aches 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Rash with round bumps 

“With this current outbreak, some but not all people may experience flu-like symptoms before developing a rash,” said Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie, M.D., medical director of Carilion Clinic Infection Prevention and Control. “They will be contagious for the entire time that they are sick with symptoms or rash.” 

Spot the “Pox” 

A monkeypox rash starts with flat spots. These spots will fill with fluid and turn into blisters, then make a crust and fall off. This cycle can last for two to four weeks as the skin heals. The blemishes might look like pimples or scabs and can be confused for chickenpox.

Most people get better without treatment. 
 
If you come into close or intimate in-person contact with someone who has monkeypox or have a rash that looks like monkeypox, talk to your primary care physician. Let them know you suspect monkeypox so they can take precautions to care for you without exposing others to risk.
 
The disease is mild, but it’s important to isolate at home. Plenty of fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers can help. 

How to Prevent an Infection 

Monkeypox is spread through close, sustained contact with an infected person. This includes direct contact with body fluids and sores through activities such as:

  • Sexual contact
  • Sharing unwashed sheets or clothing
  • Caring for someone who is sick

 The disease is not spread through casual interactions, like walking past someone.
 
Just as it is for many other illnesses, handwashing is the best defense against contracting monkeypox. Follow these steps: 

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold)
  • Turn off the tap and apply soap
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, including between your fingers and under your nails
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse well under clean, running water
  • Air-dry your hands or use a clean towel

If you have more questions about monkeypox or your own risk level, contact your primary care physician or visit a nearby urgent care center such as VelocityCare. Be sure to let them know if you think it might be monkeypox so they can minimize the exposure risk to staff and other patients.

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CarilionClinic.org/safe | CarilionClinic.org/coronavirus | CarilionClinic.org/covid-19-vaccine
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