What Is Monkeypox, And Should I Be Worried?

Understanding how the new monkeypox outbreak may or may not affect your life.

Vaccine creation
Vaccine creation. PHOTO: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.com

A recent monkeypox outbreak in the United States has many wondering if they should be concerned about the likelihood of catching or transmitting the virus. The recent worry is likely due to the fact that there have been over 26,000 infections documented in over 80 countries as of July 2022. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) for the U.S. is concerned about this virus because monkeypox has historically been concentrated in central and West Africa. The virus spreads mainly through close, intimate contact with someone who has monkeypox, and it has been mainly found in the gay male population.

As of August 28, 2022, there have been 14,115 total confirmed monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases, with the majority of cases in New York. Data suggests that the disease has been primarily transmitted between gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The disease, however, can affect anyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning that if you have sexual relations with someone or have been in close contact with someone with monkeypox, you are at risk. Thus, it is essential to look at the numbers and understand how at risk the average American really is regarding the monkeypox outbreak in 2022.

Infections. PHOTO: CDC on Unsplash.com

How did the outbreak come to be?

Researchers are currently trying to figure out how the outbreak became so prominent in the U.S. and the source of the most recent infections. The disease itself was first identified in humans in the 1970s in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and since then, cases have been mainly reported in rural, rainforest, and tropical regions. The harmfulness of monkeypox is relatively unknown as separate outbreaks have had different levels of danger. According to the World Health Organization, an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996–97 saw cases with a lower fatality ratio and higher attack rate than commonly seen in the past. Nevertheless, since 2017 Nigeria has seen a large outbreak of monkeypox that hasn’t ceased.

The disease, however, is of world public health importance as it has spread across oceans and even reached the United States. As of 2003, the U.S. had had minimal cases sporadically up until 2021, when travelers from Nigeria brought cases in July and November of that year. In May 2022, the CDC noticed a growing number of cases in the United States and since then has been in the process of developing and distributing vaccines to those affected by this disease.

Holding hands
Holding hands. PHOTO: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.com

How likely am I to get it?

For now, the disease has been primarily concentrated in men who have sexual relations with men. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, which conducted international studies regarding monkeypox, 98% of people with monkeypox were gay or bisexual, and the transmission was 95% related to sexual acitivity. Therefore, everyone is not necessarily at risk, but those male individuals who have sex with other males are at high risk. If you are one of these individuals and you get a rash or skin irritation, you should get tested immediately so as to prevent any further spread of the disease. Anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who wants to avoid any risk should stay away from crowded parties or situations in which people wear fewer clothes and are in prolonged face-to-face contact.

Disinfection. PHOTO: Matilda Wormwood on Pexels.com

What are the symptoms I should look out for?

The most common symptom of monkeypox is some sort of rash in one’s genital areas or surrounding areas. These rashes itch, burn and eventually turn into scars and scabs. Other symptoms to look out for are fevers, chills, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms before one sees a rash of any sort.

According to the CDC, “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.” The illness can be spread throughout the entire 2–4-week period in which it takes to heal.

Can it be treated?

The CDC has already devised ways to treat the monkeypox virus before it becomes monkeypox disease. If you contract the virus, you should avoid any skin-to-skin contact with people until you are healed and consider these two vaccines; the JYNNEOS and ACAM2000 vaccines have both been approved for effective use against monkeypox. Unfortunately, these vaccines aren’t currently available to the whole public as only about 600,000 doses of the vaccine have been delivered, and less than 1.6 million people are eligible. The vaccine, however, keeps the virus from becoming a severe illness if taken within 2 weeks of exposure.

Overall, monkeypox is not as big of a threat to the general population as social media, or the news may make it out to be. If infected or exposed, however, it is imperative to make sure you take the proper precautions to stay away from others, avoid intimate contact, disinfect surfaces, and get vaccinated. This virus, like any other, is preventable from being transmitted in mass quantities if everyone does their part to stay healthy and responsible.

Paloma Vigil

A Miami native, Paloma is an avid traveler eager to put pen to paper and describe all of her adventures. Her favorite way to experience new places is with a fork in hand. Whether it is a tapas snack in Spanish bars or freshly caught raw fish delicacies in Japan, she is always ready for the next bite. Her dual Cuban-American identity drives her to explore how cultural differences can bring people across the world together in unexpected ways. She is always seeking to find innovative ways on approaching global interconnectedness through travel.

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