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July 26, 2022, 11:48 a.m. EDT

What are the monkeypox symptoms? Who can get a vaccine? What to know about the virus and how it spreads

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By Weston Blasi and Nicole Lyn Pesce

As global monkeypox cases spread, and the United States now leads the world in most known cases, there are plenty of questions about how people can protect themselves.

The World Health Organization recently declared monkeypox a global emergency , since the virus that for decades was limited to parts of central and west Africa has now spread to more than 70 countries.

More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since about May , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States has identified more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox across 45 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in 2022, and the CDC says the U.S. now leads globally in known monkeypox cases . While health experts are concerned about these cases, officials from WHO and the CDC have also said that “this is not COVID” all over again.

“We need to slow it down, but it does not spread in the air and we have vaccines to protect against it,” said Dr. David Heymann, a leading WHO adviser.

Read more: Monkeypox declared a global emergency by World Health Organization

The U.S. has released the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic /zigman2/quotes/203112420/composite BVNKF -0.10% , from its national stockpile to help prevent the virus from spreading. And the government has purchased more than 1.1 million more doses, which should soon begin shipping to the U.S.

Here is what else you need to know about monkeypox:

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that occurs mostly in central and western Africa, and was first identified in lab monkeys in 1958. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus originated from wild animals like rodents and non-human primates (such as its namesake, monkeys), according to the CDC website , and it is part of the same virus genus as smallpox.

What are the monkeypox symptoms to look out for?

The symptoms are similar to smallpox, but milder. Most monkeypox patients experience minor flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills and fatigue, while those with more serious cases could also develop rashes or other skin abrasions , which can include fluid-filled bumps, or pox.

Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized. Monkeypox can be fatal for 3% to 6% of cases, however, and it is thought to be more severe in children, according to the World Health Organization .

There is still little information on any asymptomatic infections of monkeypox.

The CDC says risk to the general public is low, but you should still seek medical care immediately if you develop any new, unexplained skin rashes on any part of your body, with or without fever and chills. And if you do develop these kinds of lesions, avoid contact with others. 

You should also call ahead before going to a healthcare facility, if possible. If you can’t phone ahead, then tell a staff member as soon as you arrive that you are concerned you may have monkeypox. And you should delay using public transportation until you have been cleared by a healthcare professional or public health officials.

Finally, tell your doctor if in the month before developing symptoms, you:

  • had contact with a person that might have had monkeypox.

  • are a man who has had intimate contact (including sex) with other men.

  • were in an area where monkeypox has been reported (currently, Europe, North America, Australia) or in an  area where monkeypox is more commonly found  (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan).

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox transmission occurs when a person encounters the virus through close contact with another human, an animal, or items that could be contaminated with body fluids carrying the disease.

“Animal-to-human transmission may occur by bite or scratch, bush meat preparation, direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, or indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated bedding,” the CDC website noted.

“Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required,” the CDC adds. “Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens.”

Related: Quest Diagnostics launches monkeypox test

While this disease can be spread through various forms of sex, similar to many viral infections like the common cold or the flu, the CDC has stated that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease like HIV or hepatitis. Some U.S. health experts have been speculating over whether monkeypox might be on the verge of becoming an entrenched sexually transmitted infection in the country, however, like gonorrhea, herpes and HIV. That’s because WHO’s top monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, reported that that 99% of all the monkeypox cases reported outside of Africa were in men, and of those, 98% involved men who have sex with men, the Associated Press reported. Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread from sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.

But it should be noted that anyone can be infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing or bedsheets. The CDC also notes some cases were also reported in people who live in the same household as an infected person. And scientists have said it will be difficult to disentangle whether the spread is being driven by sex or merely close contact.

CDC director Walensky said that while some American patients had traveled to areas where monkeypox has been spreading recently, that’s not true for every one, so “we need to presume that there is some community spread.”

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