Earlier this month, a U.S. resident tested positive for monkeypox after traveling back to the U.S. from Canada. While the risk to the general population remains low, as more cases are identified across the country, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and what to do if you’ve been exposed.
What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?
Monkeypox is a viral infection, a cousin to smallpox, but symptoms are generally milder.
Transmission occurs through close, prolonged contact with an infected person and can be spread through infected lesions, bodily fluid, large respiratory droplets or contaminated materials like clothing and bedding. The incubation period for monkeypox is typically between seven and 14 days, but symptoms can sometimes take up to three weeks to develop.
Symptoms to watch for
Signs of monkeypox usually start with flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, headache and fatigue. Patients can also have enlarged lymph nodes that can be found in the head and neck regions, under the arms or in the groin area. A characteristic rash often follows a few days later. The rash can occur on the face, body, genital area, inside the mouth, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The skin lesions typically become fluid-filled blisters that can be painful. A red area surrounds the rash, and the blisters eventually turns into a scab.
A person is no longer considered infectious when the scab falls off, and the good news is that most cases resolve with minimal medical intervention. People generally recover within two to four weeks.
Is monkeypox common in the U.S.?
Monkeypox is not new. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like rash occurred in several research monkeys, giving it the name “monkeypox.”
The first human case was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and since then there have been sporadic outbreaks.
Typically outbreaks occur in African nations, but cases have been reported in other areas due to international travel. It’s especially a concern for countries in North America and Europe that are not used to monkeypox cases.
Is monkeypox like COVID?
No, monkeypox is a completely different virus with different symptoms. Monkeypox spreads much less easily than the virus that causes COVID-19 and tends to be less severe.
If you’re having symptoms
If you are experiencing monkeypox symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed to monkeypox, it’s important that you isolate immediately and contact your healthcare provider for next steps.
Infections are usually mild and generally require no treatment. However, there are anti-viral medications available if needed, and the U.S. has a stockpile of a FDA-approved vaccine available for close contacts of infected patients.
According to the CDC, the best prevention measures include avoiding contact with infected animals, humans or contaminated materials, isolating if infected, and practicing good hand hygiene like hand washing.