The U.S. Monkeypox Outbreak: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

The monkeypox outbreak continues to spread in the U.S. Should you be worried? Learn about the symptoms, how it's spread, and treatment options.

September 27, 2022

The U.S. Monkeypox Outbreak: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic slowly gets under control, another disease is making headlines – monkeypox. First identified in 1958, monkeypox is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox. The monkeypox virus is found mainly in African wild animals and seldom spreads to humans. Recently, however, there has been a surge in monkeypox cases. Over 31,000 cases have been reported worldwide, including 375 countries that have never reported cases in the past. The United States accounts for a staggering 30% of that number, documenting over 9,000 confirmed monkeypox cases to date. As the world struggles to recover from a pandemic that has changed everyone's lives, there is fear and apprehension surrounding the current monkeypox outbreak in the United States. This article will help you understand how monkeypox is spread, how you can identify monkeypox, and what you can do about it.

How Monkeypox Is Spread

Despite its name, monkeypox likely did not first develop in monkeys. In fact, scientists still don't fully understand the history of the virus, how it originated, or how it keeps spreading in nature. While monkeys and other non-human primates can spread the virus, many animal species are more prone to contract it. Rodents like tree squirrels, rope squirrels, and dormice are incredibly prone to acquiring and spreading monkeypox. Animal-to-human transmission can occur from contact with an infected animal's blood, fluids, or skin. This can happen by touching the animal, eating meat that isn’t cooked well enough, or coming in contact with other infected animal products. Human-to-human transmission can happen through skin lesions, contact with spit or saliva, coughing, or an object that an infected person has recently touched. This usually occurs when people are physically very close to each other in an area with an active monkeypox case. There is a common misconception that monkeypox might be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). While monkeypox may be transmitted by simple skin-to-skin contact, it’s not transmitted solely by sexual contact and is not considered an STI.

Who Is at Risk of Contracting the Virus

Because of the way monkeypox spreads, health workers and others close to an active case are most susceptible to acquiring the disease. People in congregate settings like nursing homes, college dorms, and homeless shelters may also be at very high risk. Roommates, family members, and others who live in the same house as a person with a monkeypox infection are at very high risk. Even if the infected person is quarantined, household members could still come into contact with contaminated clothing, towels, bedding, and silverware.

Symptoms of Monkeypox

The most common and frequent symptoms of monkeypox are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Back discomfort or pain
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Those infected with monkeypox also usually develop a rash lasting two to three weeks. The rash appears on the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, eyes, mouth, throat, and groin. The rash starts as a flat lesion, then develops into a fluid-filled sore. Eventually, the sores develop a dry crust and fall off.

How Monkeypox Is Treated

Most people with monkeypox get better within two or three weeks without any treatment. Medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) may be taken for pain and fever if your healthcare provider recommends it.

Non-medical interventions to help support recovery from monkeypox include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Practicing mental health self-care, if isolated

In rare cases, some people may need to be hospitalized. Treatment in these severe cases may include an antiviral therapy like tecovirimat. People hospitalized with monkeypox may also need intravenous fluids and more potent pain medication.

How to Protect Yourself From Monkeypox

People with monkeypox may be contagious as soon as the first symptoms appear. They remain contagious until all their scabs have fallen off and a healthy, new layer of skin has formed.

To protect yourself from getting exposed to monkeypox, make sure you:

  • Avoid close or intimate contact with people who have a rash
  • Avoid touching the rash or scabs of someone who has monkeypox
  • Avoid touching dishes, bedding, or other objects that a person with monkeypox has handled
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water before eating or touching your face
  • Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available

What to Do if You Think You Have Monkeypox

If you notice a new or unexplained rash or any other symptoms of monkeypox, see a healthcare provider immediately. Before visiting a healthcare provider, avoid physical or intimate contact with others. Remind the healthcare provider that the monkeypox outbreak is present in many parts of the United States. Pets may carry monkeypox and spread it to others through petting, hugging, or licking. Avoid close contact with pets or other animals if you're waiting for test results. If you test positive for the virus, stay isolated and follow other prevention practices until your rash has healed. If you have a fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, or a cough and are confined to your home, stay inside and avoid social contact or public transportation. If you must go around other people for any reason, cover the rash with clothing and wear a properly fitting mask.

Outlook for Monkeypox Patients

Fortunately, monkeypox usually goes away on its own in a few weeks. The infection is rarely deadly, and more than 99% of those who contract monkeypox will make a full recovery. Pregnant people, children under the age of 8, and those with eczema or weakened immune systems are most at risk for severe complications if they contract the monkeypox virus.

Vaccines for Monkeypox

Two vaccines are available to help fight monkeypox disease: the JYNNEOS vaccine and the ACAM2000 vaccine. The JYNNEOS vaccine is approved for both monkeypox and smallpox prevention. The ACAM2000 vaccine is only approved for use against smallpox but has been made available to help protect people from monkeypox under the Food and Drug Administration's Expanded Access Investigational New Drug (EA-IND) protocol. Early research on using smallpox vaccines to fight monkeypox shows promise. The vaccines work not only to slow the disease's spread but also to decrease the severity of symptoms. Recent studies in Africa demonstrate that the vaccines are at least 85% effective in fighting monkeypox. Even after vaccination, people should continue protecting themselves from monkeypox exposure. Supply chain issues are creating a global shortage of the JYNNEOS vaccine. Still, more doses are expected to be available in the United States soon. The ACAM2000 vaccine is much more readily available in the United States but has more side effects and contraindications, making it less useful for people with health problems.

Summary: New Challenges Ahead With an Old Disease

While monkeypox has been around for a long time, questions and fears about the current outbreak are warranted as we struggle to navigate a post-pandemic world. Monkeypox has spread for the first time to 375 countries across the globe, and it's moving faster than ever. While monkeypox is usually not fatal, people must work together to stop its spread. People who think they may have monkeypox should see a healthcare provider immediately and take steps to protect themselves and others from further infection. There are currently two vaccines available that can help protect people from monkeypox. Still, those vaccines may be difficult to get. The best way to avoid the disease is to avoid those who have contracted monkeypox, but more research is needed to understand the implications of the current outbreak. Many new challenges are ahead with this old disease, which may worsen an already-crippled healthcare and supply chain system. Please contact your healthcare provider or local health department if you have any questions about monkeypox. You can also visit any of Urgent Care 24/7's locations to speak to a provider and discuss testing and treatment options if you think you may have monkeypox.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral disease that causes a rash and fever. It’s similar to smallpox but usually milder.

Where did monkeypox come from?

Monkeypox is found in some parts of Africa. It is spread through contact with the skin or body fluids of infected animals, such as monkeys, rats, and squirrels.

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox can be spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for someone who is sick or sharing bedding or clothing. It can also be spread by touching objects an infected person has been in contact with.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The most common monkeypox symptoms are headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. People may also develop a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

How long does it take for monkeypox symptoms to appear?

Symptoms usually appear within a couple of days after exposure to the virus. However, in some cases, symptoms may not appear for up to 2 weeks.

How long is monkeypox contagious?

People with monkeypox can be contagious as soon as their first symptoms appear. They should be considered contagious until all scabs from the rash fall off and new, healthy skin has grown.

Is monkeypox deadly?

In most cases, no. Over 99% of people who contract monkeypox will recover fully. However, the infection may be severe or fatal for people with weakened immune systems, children under 8 years of age, or those who are pregnant.

How is monkeypox treated?

Monkeypox does not typically require any specific treatment. Pain and fever-reducing medications may be used to help with symptoms. In rare cases, people may need antiviral injections or need to be hospitalized or injected with antivirals.

Can monkeypox be prevented?

Two vaccines available can help protect against monkeypox: the JYNNEOS vaccine and the ACAM2000 vaccine. However, these vaccines may be difficult to get. The best way to avoid any disease is to use good disease prevention practices like frequent hand washing and avoiding others who are sick.

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

If you think you have the monkeypox virus, see a healthcare provider immediately and take steps to protect others from infection.