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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

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What is the CDC’s monkeypox travel warning?

The CDC has three travel advisory levels that it uses when cases of a disease have been reported in dozens of destinations, which include:

• Watch — Level 1:  Practice usual precautions • Alert — Level 2:  Practice enhanced precautions • Warning — Level 3:  Avoid nonessential travel

It has issued a “Level 2” warning for travelers related to monkeypox , suggesting the following precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people, including those with skin lesions or genital lesions.

  • Avoid contact with dead or live wild animals, such as small mammals including rodents (rats, squirrels) and non-human primates (monkeys, apes).

  • Avoid eating or preparing meat from wild game ( bush meat ) or using products derived from wild animals from Africa (creams, lotions, powders).

  • Avoid contact with contaminated materials used by sick people (such as clothing, bedding, or materials used in healthcare settings) or that came into contact with infected animals.

Is monkeypox related to smallpox?

The monkeypox virus belongs to a subset of the Poxviridae family of viruses called Orthopoxvirus, and that subset of viruses also includes smallpox, vaccinia and cowpox viruses.

All of the above viruses in the Poxviridae family often can lead to “pox”-like symptoms like rashes, pimples and other lesions on the skin.

See also: Moderna says it will start developing a monkeypox vaccine

Additionally, the WHO says monkeypox is “ clinically less severe ” than smallpox.

Can monkeypox be cured or treated?

There is currently no specific treatment approved for the monkeypox virus, the CDC says , but antiviral medications developed for smallpox like Tecovirimat (aka TPOXX) may prove beneficial. And there are vaccines that help prevent monkeypox infections.

Where has monkeypox been reported in the U.S.?

U.S. monkeypox cases are usually very rare, according to the CDC. But the U.S. has identified more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox across 45 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in 2022, and the CDC says, and America now leads globally in known monkeypox cases.

Last November, the Maryland department of health and the CDC confirmed a case of monkeypox in November from a U.S. resident who had recently returned from Nigeria. That person presented with mild symptom, and was not hospitalized. In July 2021, the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed a case of monkeypox from a U.S. citizen who traveled from Nigeria. 

Who is eligible for a monkeypox vaccine?

Jynneos (also known by the brand names Imvamune or Imvanex) has been licensed in the United States to prevent monkeypox and smallpox. In June, the U.S. had 72,000 Jynneos doses on hand. The government has also purchased more than 1.1 million doses of the vaccine , made by Bavarian Nordic in Denmark. And the country also has 100 million doses of the older smallpox vaccine, which could potentially be used.

But the Jynneos vaccine, given as two doses four weeks apart, was largely being reserved for health-care workers and people who have been exposed to monkeypox, and is not intended to be a mass vaccination effort. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonoses lead, and technical lead on COVID-19, said in a Q&A, “We will be making recommendations on who should be prioritized for this” soon.

Related: FDA clears way for more monkeypox vaccine shipments to U.S.

“Right now we are hoping to maximize vaccine distribution to those that we know would benefit from it,” Captain Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology Division, told Reuters . “So those are people who’ve had contact with known monkeypox patients, healthcare workers, very close personal contacts, and those in particular who might be at high risk for severe disease.”

But some places have expanded eligibility to deal with larger outbreaks. New York City opened a monkeypox vaccine clinic. The NYC health department has also opened eligibility to all gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (cisgender or transgender) who are 18 and older who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the past 14 days.

Read more: Monkeypox vaccine clinic opens in NYC — here’s who is eligible

Since the monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, smallpox vaccines can also protect people from getting monkeypox. The original smallpox vaccine, ACAM2000 , was shown to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox , although there were some serious side effects . In fact, roughly half of all Americans have some immunity against monkeypox because they were vaccinated against smallpox , although smallpox vaccinations mostly ended in 1972, after the disease was eradicated in the country.

What are the U.S. and President Joe Biden doing about monkeypox?

Earlier in the spring, President Joe Biden said that the monkeypox disease is a “concern in that if it were to spread it would be consequential.” But Biden has not yet publicly commented on any detailed U.S. plan for vaccinations against monkeypox, should they be necessary. But in light of WHO declaring monkeypox a global emergency, the Biden administration is reportedly deliberating whether to declare the nation’s monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency, as well, the Washington Post reported . Biden also plans to name a White House coordinator to oversee the response, according to the Post.

The White House recently announced that it is expanding monkeypox testing to commercial laboratories , to ensure the nation is not undercounting monkeypox cases due to insufficient testing.  And the FDA recently cleared the way for thousands more doses of monkeypox vaccine to ship to the U.S.

This article was originally published in May 2022, and has been updated with the latest data, and the World Health Organization naming monkeypox a global emergency.

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