Monkeypox is not contracted from monkeys. “Pox” refers to viruses which cause pimple-like rashes that can become pus filled and leave scars after healing. And monkeypox is not the same as chickenpox. It is more similar to smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1980’s due to successful global vaccination programs.
Until now, monkeypox cases came from contact with infected rodents like squirrels, mice, and rats. The current outbreak is spreading via human-to-human contact, with most cases in the United States linked to sexual contact among men having sex with other men. The virus can also spread through non-sexual contact via contact with infectious lesions. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports people can also be infected by respiratory droplets from infected carriers (this should sound familiar after 2½ years of the COVID-19 pandemic). Monkeypox can also be spread by touching personal items (clothing, bed sheets, towels, etc.) that previously touched the infectious rash of an infected person. People who do not have symptoms cannot spread monkeypox. Staying up-to-date with monkeypox prevalence in your area is important. You can track monkeypox cases on the CDC website.
Symptoms of monkeypox are the same symptoms associated with most viral infections: fever, headaches, muscle aches and low energy. The characteristic rash resembles firm pimples and pus-filled blisters. It can develop all over the body, including face, feet, hands, genitals and inside the mouth. Some patients only develop the rash without other symptoms. The rash typically lasts 2 – 4 weeks and may heal with scarring. While treatment is available for monkeypox, supplies have been limited. The recommended treatment is the antiviral pill tecovirimat (brand name Tpoxx) taken for 2 weeks.
If you develop symptoms with a rash or believe you have been exposed, the most important first step is to isolate yourself to prevent the spread of the virus. The WHO recommends isolating yourself for 3 weeks if you have been exposed or are awaiting test results. Testing is available in Denver at both Quest and Labcorp.
Fortunately, over 90% of patients with monkeypox will survive. Life-threatening complications include pneumonia and other respiratory problems. People at high risk include children, individuals with compromised immune systems, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Experts reports that previous smallpox vaccination is 85% effective in preventing monkeypox infection. In the U.S., 2 types of smallpox vaccines are available to fight monkeypox. The CDC recommends those who have been exposed to monkeypox and have not had a smallpox vaccine within three years should get one within four days of exposure and no later than two weeks to reduce symptoms. Mass vaccination and pre-exposure vaccination for the majority of people is not recommended at this time.
The World Health Organization has an excellent webpage on monkeypox.