Monkeypox Education and Vigilance Can Protect Us

Blog#125- 8/2/22

By Richard Davis

Should Americans, and the rest of the world, worry about the current outbreak of Monkeypox? It doesn’t look like it will cause the same level of morbidity and mortality that COVID has caused, but it does have the potential to infect a lot of people.

It’s worth knowing the history of this disease. As reported in the Smithsonian magazine, “Since it was first identified in a colony of monkeys in Copenhagen in 1958, monkeypox has been largely overlooked by the Western world. An infectious poxvirus that causes fever, chills and rashes, the disease is endemic, or consistently regionally present, in ten African countries. Until recently, however, it was rarely found in Europe and the Americas—a trend that has, historically, led Western public health officials to disregard its spread elsewhere.”

“It’s a phenomenon of ‘not in my backyard,’” says Martin Hirsch, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Infectious Diseases and an immunologist at Harvard University. “There’s not much interest in Western health groups about something that’s only circulating in Africa.”

Although Monkeypox is found in many African countries researchers say that Africans have been stigmatized because, as noted in the Smithsonian magazine, “… the virus’ continued presence in Africa is largely the result of unequal access to global vaccine stockpiles and healthcare resources.”

There is also another stigmatizing aspect to this disease because the majority of Americans who have contracted it have been men who have sex with other men. This stirs up memories of the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Monkeypox is not easily transmitted and it is likely that the numbers in the U.S. will not climb to dangerous levels.

The Smithsonian also notes, “The current outbreak appears to be spreading mainly among men who have sex with other men (MSM)—a trend that has drawn parallels with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which disproportionately affected the LGBTQ community at its height in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Scientists are not entirely sure why the disease is spreading this way, but early findings suggest it “may have made its way into highly interconnected sexual networks within the MSM community, where it can spread in ways that it cannot in the general population,” per Science magazine.”

Vaccines for monkeypox are being made available but are very difficult to obtain. That should change in the coming months. In the meantime it is helpful for people to find reliable information about monkeypox and use that information to guide them.

The two best sources of information about emerging diseases are the CDC and the WHO. Here is what the CDC says about signs and symptoms:

“Symptoms of monkeypox can include:
Muscle aches and backache
Swollen lymph nodes
Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)

A rash that may be located on or near the genitals (penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or anus (butthole) but could also be on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth. The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. You may experience all or only a few symptoms

Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.

Most people with monkeypox will get a rash. Some people have developed a rash before (or without) other symptoms. Monkeypox symptoms usually start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.

Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.”

Whether or not someone seeks the vaccine when available should be based on an informed decision. Educate yourself and talk to health care providers that you trust. It is also interesting to note that Monkeypox is related to Smallpox, a disease that has been eradicated. Prior to 1972 most Americans were vaccinated against Smallpox. Experts believe those vaccinations may still provide some protection against Monkeypox but they do not know how much protection. It is an issue of speculation and not science at this point.

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