Don’t Worry About Monkeypox, Just Stay Informed

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By now, you have likely heard of monkeypox, a viral infection that has seen cases worldwide, including here in the United States. New York, Washington, Florida, Utah and Massachusetts have reported cases of monkeypox.

While it hasn't hit Michigan—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says risk to the general public is low—the CDC has increased the travel risk from a level 1 to a level 2, meaning you should “practice enhanced precautions,” when traveling. That means avoiding close physical contact with people who are sick, not sharing cups and utensils, washing your hands often and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

That said, you don’t have to cancel any plans. Monkeypox is less dangerous and not as contagious as COVID-19.

“There is little concern that monkeypox will spread and become a pandemic,” says Dennis Cunningham, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health. “Monkeypox is spread very differently than COVID-19—only through close contact with an infected person. Also, people who have been immunized against smallpox may have some protection against monkeypox. Most Americans born before 1970 received the smallpox vaccine. It was discontinued in 1972 when smallpox was eradicated in the United States.”   

Here, Dr. Cunningham shares facts about monkeypox.

Q: What is monkeypox?

A: Monkeypox is a viral disease that can cause skin lesions that look like smallpox. Monkeypox is in the same family as smallpox, but it’s much less dangerous. The virus lives in rodents—and possibly non-human primates—in parts of Africa. People typically become infected when they travel to Africa.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys that were kept for research, leading to the name “monkeypox.” It was not seen in humans until 1970; most cases have been found in African nations.

“Monkeypox is very rare in the United States and outbreaks are usually limited geographically,” says Dr. Cunningham.

Q: How does monkeypox spread?

A: The virus is typically spread through contact with lesions (broken skin), body fluids and respiratory droplets, along with bites from infected animals. While monkeypox is not a classic sexually transmitted infection like syphilis or gonorrhea, it may be spread via sex.

Q: Does monkeypox cause severe illness?

A: Studies suggest that most people infected with monkeypox actually have no symptoms. Based on a U.S. outbreak in 2003, symptoms may include:

  • Rash (97%)
  • Fever (85%)
  • Chills (71%)
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes (71%)
  • Headache (65%)
  • Muscle aches and pains (56%)

“Fever usually appears two days before the rash,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Most people who have symptoms have mild symptoms.”  

Q: Is there treatment for monkeypox?

A: If someone becomes severely ill with monkeypox, there are antivirals (such as cidofovir, tecovirimat and brincidofivir) and vaccinia immunoglobulins they can take. Usually, severe illness is limited to people who are immunocompromised.

Q: Does the smallpox vaccine prevent monkeypox?

A: Vaccination against smallpox may prevent symptoms, but it must have been given before monkeypox symptoms appear. It is available only through the CDC.

Q: What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

A: According to the CDC, you should seek medical care immediately if you develop a new, unexplained skin rash (lesions on any part of the body), with or without fever and chills.

“The monkeypox rash may resemble shingles, but shingles occurs in crops of lesions in various stages (papules, vesicles, ulcers, scabbed lesions),” says Dr. Cunningham. “In monkeypox, the lesions will be at the same stage and have the same appearance. Be aware and follow CDC guidance, but you don’t have to panic about monkeypox. The risk is still low.” 

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To find a doctor or make an appointment at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.    

Dr. Dennis Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.  

Categories: FeelWell