What to Know About Monkeypox (like…it doesn’t come from monkeys)

A hot topic in the news around the world right now is monkeypox. Despite its name, monkeypox does not come from monkeys (there is even a campaign to rename the virus). However, it is in the poxvirus family, meaning it’s related to other pox diseases such as smallpox, cowpox, and horsepox–but NOT the common chickenpox. While the virus itself is not new, the global spread we are currently seeing is somewhat puzzling to medical scientists, who haven’t seen the same behavior from the virus before. We are all a bit on edge from living through a global pandemic for two years, so this post will help to dispel myths about monkeypox, share what to look out for, and your best defenses against the virus.

Myths About Monkeypox

1. Monkeypox is an STI: Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, because it can be spread by any kind of close contact. The most common methods of close contact that may spread monkeypox include close contact with an infected animal, person-to-person physical contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. 

2. Monkeypox is only affecting the LGBTQ+ population: While the most at-risk population for monkeypox exposure is currently men who have sex with men, monkeypox can and does impact those outside of the LGBTQ+ community–including healthcare workers and people who are immunocompromised. As you just learned above, the virus can be spread by any type of close contact, so anyone who is exposed to the virus is susceptible. If you are in one of those higher risk populations, then there are precautions you can take to protect yourself (keep reading). 

3. Monkeypox is another pandemic: Although monkeypox is spreading globally in 2022, the spread has not reached pandemic levels. This virus is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19 has proven to be. COVID-19 was a brand new virus, first discovered in 2019, that is spread through tiny droplets in the air. Monkeypox, on the other hand, has been around since 1958 (so we know much more about it) and is spread primarily through close contact (https://www.cdph.ca.gov/). Prior to 2022, the virus was primarily isolated to sub-saharan African countries, but there are now over 50,000 global cases including almost 19,000 confirmed cases in the US. The majority of these cases are occurring in, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “locations that have not historically reported monkeypox” (https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox). Another major difference between the COVID-19 pandemic and the current monkeypox outbreak is that death from monkeypox is extremely rare. In the US, for example, none of the 19,000 confirmed cases have ended in death. 

Symptoms of Monkeypox

Now that we have the myths busted, let’s talk more about what to look for if you think you may have been exposed to monkeypox.

The most common and obvious symptoms of monkeypox are flu-like symptoms (such as fever, muscle aches, sore throat, congestion) followed by the blistered rash or firm sores that can appear 1-4 days after the early symptoms begin. Blisters may show up anywhere on the body but are often seen in the genital or pelvic area, as well as mouth, face, hands, feet, and torso. 

As long as you have symptoms, including the blistered rash, you are contagious, so be sure to isolate and avoid close contact with people and animals while you are symptomatic.

How to Protect Yourself

  1. Get vaccinated if you are in a high risk group (men who have sex with men, healthcare workers, and immunocompromised are currently considered high risk groups).
  2. Avoid close contact with those who are symptomatic.
  3. Use protection when engaging in sexual activity; however, keep in mind that an infected person can spread the virus through kissing, breathing, spitting, etc.
  4. Wash your hands and sanitize high-touch surfaces (such as grocery carts) before using.
  5. Use PPE (mask, gloves, etc.) if you cannot avoid contact with a symptomatic person.

What to do if you contract Monkeypox 

First: stay calm! Monkeypox can reportedly be quite uncomfortable but it IS treatable. It’s important to seek treatment quickly to get relief as soon as possible.

Find an in-network provider and seek treatment immediately. Your provider may recommend a telehealth assessment initially to determine if you are contagious and what precautions you should take. Depending on your insurance plan, be sure to file a claim to get eligible expenses covered for your treatment.

Remember to isolate and avoid contact with others (as much as possible) while you are symptomatic. If you must come into contact with others, such as when seeking medical treatment, use PPE and disclose your diagnosis to those treating you. 

Also, be sure to communicate with your school and/or job about any class or work you may miss. Remember that you do not have to disclose your specific diagnosis, but it may be helpful to let professors and bosses know that you have to isolate and will be attending class or working remotely until asymptomatic. 

For more information about Monkeypox, review this helpful post from The Unbiased Science Podcast, which breaks down important information about the virus into bite-sized details.

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