The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends taking measures to reduce exposure to the monkeypox virus, which is transmitted between people through close contact with secretions from the respiratory tract or skin lesions, as well as recently contaminated objects.
Recommendations from health experts include washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with infected people, among other measures.
The number of confirmed cases of the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox, is growing in Europe and North America, which has prompted WHO to declare a global health emergency over the outbreak.
In the U.S., there have been a total of 2,891 monkeypox cases reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It has been detected in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Case rates are highest in Washington, D.C., New York, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts and California.
New Jersey has at least 41 known cases of monkeypox reported so far.
Although the virus is less deadly than smallpox, it typically lasts for two to four weeks and symptoms can appear anywhere from five to 21 days after infection.
There is no vaccine for monkeypox, but smallpox vaccines are somewhat effective at preventing severe illness because of monkeypox’s similarity to smallpox.
The older vaccine, called ACAM2000, contains vaccinia virus, which is in the same family as smallpox. It cannot cause smallpox but does lead to mild illness. It’s administered using a two-pronged needle that pokes the vaccine solution into the body, where red sore spots will develop in 3 to 4 days. It can also cause itching, fever and headache.
This virus can replicate in the body, and it’s also possible to pass it on to someone else who is unvaccinated. ACAM2000 is only officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for smallpox but because of the viruses’ similarities, it does confer some protection against MPX.
The newer vaccine, called Jynneos, is given as two shots four weeks apart. The virus contained in this vaccine is attenuated, which can be interpreted as being weaker than the original virus. It cannot make copies of itself once inside the body. Data from clinical trials in Africa suggest that it is 85 percent effective at preventing MPX. Jynneos has been approved by the FDA for prevention of both smallpox and MPX disease.
The benefit to using ACAM2000 is that there is a large stockpile of the vaccine available, set aside by the government in preparation for potential bioterrorism. More than 200 million doses are stockpiled in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile.
For the Jynneos vaccine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced they will provide 296,000 doses. However, only 56,000 of those doses will be immediately available.
When the first MPX cases were detected in the U.S., health officials were recommending people with confirmed exposures to get vaccinated. But with more cases being reported and inadequate testing, the “ring” strategy of vaccinating close contacts around a case may not be enough to stop transmission.
Health professionals across the globe stress that the risk to the general population is low, but it is important to know how monkeypox spreads so that you can do to protect yourself from infection.
Typically, monkeypox is known to spread to people who have had contact with infected animals. This could be following a bite, scratch or consuming uncooked animal meat.
Monkeypox can also spread from human to human. Although this was originally thought of as rare, the recent and unusual rapid rise of infections outside of Africa has raised concerns.
It is typically spread between people in three ways: inhaling respiratory droplets; directly touching an infected person; and, less often, through indirect contact – such as through clothes or linen that have been in contact with fluid from sores.
Respiratory transmission involves large droplets that don’t linger in the air or travel far. As a result, person-to-person spread typically requires prolonged, intimate contact.
Monkeypox is also spread through close personal contact, like skin-to-skin contact or kissing.
The virus is generally not considered a sexually transmitted infection and it is not known to be spread through semen during intercourse.
However, “it can be transmitted during sexual and intimate contact”, Dr John Brooks, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on 23 May.
So far, the majority of cases have been spread through sex with a particular concentration among gay and bisexual men. However, anyone can be at risk of catching the virus.
How can you protect yourself against monkeypox?
While health experts agree the risks to the general public are low, there are a number of precautions you can take to decrease your risk of catching monkeypox.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the best precautions you can take are:
- Washing your hands with soap and water regularly or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients who are confirmed or infected with the monkeypox virus.
- Only eating meat that has been cooked thoroughly.
- Do not go near wild or stray animals, including dead animals, as well as animals that look unwell.
- Do not eat or touch meat from wild animals.
- Do not share bedding or towels with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox.
- Do not have close contact with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox.
What should you do if you catch monkeypox?
Initial symptoms of monkeypox can consist of headaches, muscle aches, swelling, back pain, and fever.
Within one to five days of infection, lesions and rashes typically occur across the body – on the hands, face, feet, eyes, mouth, and genitals. These eventually turn into raised bumps which form blisters, some also fill with white fluid before breaking and scabbing over. This fluid can be infectious.
If you have these symptoms or suspect that you may have contracted the virus you should isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek medical advice immediately.
If you have contracted the virus, you will be required to isolate yourself until you have recovered.
Individuals who catch monkeypox typically recover within two to four weeks.
The symptoms can be confused with other illnesses – such as herpes, syphilis, or chickenpox – so it is important to confirm with a medical professional as soon as possible.
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