With the recent classification of the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency in the United States, it’s easy to feel alarmed and begin drawing comparisons between monkeypox and the reality-upending COVID-19 pandemic. However, the truth is that the two viruses are not the same, and their ramifications will likely not be the same, either.
Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox, including its causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
Monkeypox is caused by a virus in the Orthopoxvirus family, which also includes the smallpox virus. Monkeypox is endemic to certain regions in Africa, and the first recorded case of monkeypox in a human was in 1970. The monkeypox virus is primarily transmitted through characteristic pox-like skin lesions, meaning that the most common way to become infected is through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus.
When people contract monkeypox, they tend to experience progressive stages of illness. In the first stage, they may have constitutional flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches. After a few days, the classic monkeypox lesions appear, usually in places around the genitals or buttocks (but they can also appear on the hands, feet, face, or mouth). These lesions follow a predictable pattern, starting as flat red spots, then becoming raised bumps that turn into fluid-filled blisters. After several days, these blisters scab over and then fall off. In the current 2022 outbreak, the symptoms of monkeypox disease may be less prominent, with some people only experiencing a mild rash.
Monkeypox can spread from person to person, so it is considered contagious. However, the following tactics can help you avoid contracting the virus:
- Reduce your skin-to-skin contact with others, taking special care not to touch anyone with pox-like lesions.
- Avoid touching objects that may have come into contact with the virus, such as towels or bedding.
- Follow general public health recommendations, such as routine handwashing, avoiding others who are sick, and staying home when you’re sick.
If you’re at especially high risk of contracting the virus (i.e. if you’re a scientist working with orthopoxvirus samples or a member of a social network that is at higher risk, (such as men who have sex with men), you may be eligible for a preventive vaccine against monkeypox.
There is no FDA-approved treatment for Monkeypox. Monkeypox is typically a self-limited disease, which means that your immune system can usually clear the virus on its own without assistance. However, if you are immunosuppressed or have a severe case of monkeypox, there are investigational treatments available with antiviral medications that may be helpful.
What to Do if You Suspect Monkeypox
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of monkeypox, getting tested can give you some piece of mind. At GoHealth Urgent Care, tests for monkeypox are currently available, and medical providers can help you manage your symptoms and feel better every day of the week.