The Monkeypox outbreak has spread across 75 countries, totaling over 20,000 confirmed cases across the globe. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 3000 confirmed cases. New York appears to be the epicenter of the health crisis, with more than 1000 cases reported. On Friday, the World Health Organization declared Monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern.” White House response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said the move was “a call to action to the world community to stop the spread” of the virus, but how concerned should we be about the rising disease? What is it, and how is it transmitted? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Monkeypox?
According to the CDC, Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It shares similarities to smallpox, but symptoms are generally milder, health officials say. Monkeypox is rarely fatal.
What are the symptoms?
Individuals infected with the disease experience painful rash or blisters that can appear on the face, mouth, feet, or genitals. Symptoms often associated with Monkeypox can include muscle aches, fever, headache, or swollen lymph nodes. Some people have reported experiencing respiratory symptoms such as a soar throat, nasal congestion, or a bad cough. The illness typically lasts for 2-4 weeks, and the blisters slowly heal over time.
How is it transmitted?
According to health experts, Monkeypox can be spread by direct contact with an infected individual who has a rash or scabs as a result of the disease. It can also be transmitted through body fluids, respiratory secretions, or intimate physical contact such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. Pregnant women could potentially spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta if infected, and some officials say the disease can be transmitted by touching clothing or sheet used by those infected with open sores.
Oddly, Monkeypox doesn’t spread through casual contact, like shaking hands or sharing the same toilet seat. “This seems to really require close, prolonged skin-to-skin contact. If it didn’t, we’d have millions of cases by now,” Dr. Ali Khan, an epidemiologist, and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center told USA Today.
How severe is the disease?
Overall, health officials say the risk of Monkeypox remains relatively low for the general public. Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan, told NPR she believes this is because the disease is spread through prolonged intimate contact with someone infected or exposure to contaminated items such as bedding or utensils.
“Thankfully, the risk of serious complications is low in most people. However, some people may be more vulnerable to developing complications if they do develop the infection,” like children “under the age of eight” and “pregnant women and individuals who may be living with other immunocompromising conditions,” she added. If left untreated, complications in high-risk individuals could be potentially life-threatening. According to the WHO, five people have died globally since the Monkeypox virus appeared in late April.
Yes, people should be concerned about the growing health crisis, but there are preventative measures that can be taken to keep you and your loved ones safe during this stressful time. Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash or blisters with Monkeypox. Health experts advise that people limit kissing, intimate contact, and touching with sexual partners during this time to curb the spread of the virus. Do not share cups, bedding, towels, or eating utensils with someone infected with Monkeypox. And remember to wash your hands often with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when out and about.