What is Monkeypox? An Overview

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard of a rare viral illness that has been spreading around the globe: monkeypox. While monkeypox is more common in Africa, it is beginning to become present in various countries. At the time of this article, there have been over 1,000 cases reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from over 29 different countries – not counting the number of cases in Africa, where the virus is somewhat more endemic. In the United States alone, there have been multiple cases reported across the country. However, none of the cases reported to the WHO during this outbreak have been fatal.

But all of this skips over the main question that many people are thinking: what is monkeypox? Building off a report from Caitlin O’Kane from CBS DFW, Patient Worthy will lay out what monkeypox is, how it is spread, potential symptoms, and what you can do to keep yourself safe.

Monkeypox: An Overview

The monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 in a monkey colony (hence the name). The virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus, which exists under the umbrella of Poxviridae. Once contracted, the monkeypox virus causes this rare infectious disease. Although the virus was first discovered in monkeys in 1958, the first human case was not reported until 1970. The CDC reports that monkeypox is most common in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with other cases often occurring in areas such as Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, Gabon, and Sierra Leone.

When monkeypox occurs outside of Africa, the viral illness is often linked to either the importation of certain animals or to international travel. For example, when a monkeypox case was reported in Texas last year, it was found that the infected individual had previously been in Nigeria.

How is it spread?

Recently, the New York Times reported that it was possible to spread the monkeypox virus through airborne droplets, urging extreme caution. While this is possible, reports The Hill, the virus is most often spread through close contact with an infected individual. If you touch any weeping lesions, you are at risk of developing monkeypox. The virus can also be spread through contact with bedding or laundry that has been used by an infected individual.

Those with monkeypox are urged to isolate themselves. At home, they should avoid contact with pets or other family members. Any monkeypox lesions should be covered. If someone has respiratory symptoms, they – and those in the household – should wear a mask for safety.

How can I protect myself from infection?

First, there are vaccines available for monkeypox to protect you against exposure. If you are interested in learning more about these vaccines, take a look at this helpful guide from the CDC.

If someone in your home has monkeypox, using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves can be used to reduce the risk. Any bedding or laundry should be washed with soap and warm water.

Continue washing your hands frequently with soap and water, as well as utilizing hand sanitizer.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The incubation period for symptoms is typically 7-14 days, though it can span anywhere from 5-21 days. Symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and back pain
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Extreme fatigue

Once the fever breaks, the symptoms then spread to the development of an itchy, painful rash. In many cases, the rash first forms on the face but can then spread to the rest of the body, most often the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Next, lesions form, including papules and fluid-filled pustules. Then these lesions scab over.

Altogether, those who recover from monkeypox typically experience symptoms for 2-4 weeks before they begin recovering. In areas where the virus is endemic, it is fatal in 10% of cases. However, as reported earlier in this article, this is not what we have seen in this most recent outbreak.

To learn more about monkeypox, click here.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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