What is Monkeypox?
Human monkeypox viral infection (hMPXV) is caused by a DNA virus which was very rare until recently. The most obvious symptom is a rash, which may look like pimples, blisters, or sores that can range from mild to very extensive and painful. Often, there is an earlier flu-like illness with headaches, fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. Monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, which was eradicated in a worldwide vaccination campaign decades ago. Fortunately, Monkeypox is far less deadly than smallpox.
Am I at risk for getting Monkeypox?
So far, there have been very few Monkeypox cases in Vermont but more than 7,000 known cases in the U.S., mostly in gay and bisexual men. This has caused the U.S. and the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare states of emergency in an effort to better mobilize resources to combat further spread of Monkeypox.
While the headlines seem alarming, the good news is that Monkeypox is far less deadly and contagious than Covid or its closest relative, smallpox. The risk of infection for most people is currently very low. Unlike COVID-19 that mainly spreads through the air, Monkeypox is mainly spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact and contact with objects, surfaces, and fabrics used by someone who has the disease. Death from Monkeypox is very rare in the developed world, far less likely to happen than from Covid. Brief contact, like a handshake, is not usually enough to spread Monkeypox.
To date, most cases worldwide and in the U.S. are among men who have sex with men. While it is important not to stigmatize gay and bisexual men in whom this disease first appeared, a proper public health response must target the people most at risk and the riskiest activities, and that requires an honest assessment of what is happening.
What can I do to protect myself?
To lower the risk of contagion, everyone should try to make sure sex partners and close contacts do not have Monkeypox, watching out for sores. Condom use can reduce the chances of getting sores in sensitive areas. High-risk groups, primarily gay and bisexual men at this point, can reduce their number of sexual partners and reduce direct close contact with those not in their immediate circle. And, of course, as always, everyone should practice good hygiene, especially frequent hand-washing.
What is being done to protect the public?
At this point, the limited supply of vaccines has been sent to outbreaks and areas with a high prevalence of Monkeypox. These vaccines are targeted to the highest risk groups and possible contacts in outbreaks. It is hoped that this outbreak is still containable. Currently, the vaccine is not available to the general public, but it will eventually be available to health centers such as Grace Cottage.
What are the treatments for Monkeypox?
Suspected infections should be tested. Test kits have been distributed to many health care facilities, including Grace Cottage. Fortunately, treatments and vaccines originally developed for the related virus, smallpox, exist and are effective for Monkeypox. However, these supplies are limited and are ordered only under guidance from health department epidemiologists.
If you feel sick or have a new or unexplained rash or sores, avoid contact with other people and animals, stay home, and contact your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, consider these options:
- Call Grace Cottage Family Health at (802)365-4331
- Call 2-1-1 to be connected to care or go to their website: Vermont211.org
- Or check out this website: VTFreeClinics.org
For more information, visit: https://www.healthvermont.gov/disease-control/zoonotic-diseases/human-monkeypox-virus-hmpxv
(last revised 8/9/22)