Monkeypox: A Cause for Concern?
Jessie Leyse, MD, MPH is an infectious disease expert at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center.
What is Monkeypox (MPV)?
Dr. Leyse: Monkeypox (MPV) is a rare virus spread through close contact with an infected individual, or contact with contaminated fabrics. The virus is usually abbreviated as MPV, but sometimes as MPX as well.
How do people become infected with MPV?
Dr. Leyse: Close contact with an infected person is the most frequent way to contract MPV. The virus lives inside skin lesions, so anything that touches the lesions is potentially infectious; this includes linens, towels, and people’s hands if they’ve been touching/scratching the lesions, or even saliva and respiratory droplets if the person has lesions in their mouth.
What are the symptoms of an infection?
Dr. Leyse: Symptoms of MPV 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
- A rash on the hands, feet, chest, face or mouth
MPV symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the virus. Sometimes people develop flu-like symptoms one to four days before the rash appears. 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. MPV 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 two to four weeks.
What should I do if I suspect I’ve been infected with MPV?
Dr. Leyse: First, isolate just the way you would if you suspected a COVID-19 illness. Then, call your provider. There are no treatments specifically for MPV infections and most people will have mild to moderate illness that doesn’t pose a serious risk to health. However, MPV and smallpox viruses are genetically similar, which means that antiviral drugs and vaccines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat MPV infections for those more at risk of serious illness. Antivirals, such as tecovirimat (TPOXX), may be recommended for people with compromised immune systems.
How concerned should I be about MPV? As much as I am about COVID-19?
Dr. Leyse: The federal government declared the current MPV epidemic a public health emergency. This makes it easier to increase both vaccine and testing resources. At this time, risk is very low in both Vermont and northern New York. As of early August 2022, there have been 4,907 cases identified in the U.S., and more than 21,000 cases reported during the current outbreak world-wide, according to the Vermont Department of Health. There have been no reported deaths due to the virus in developed countries.
Is MPV a sexually transmitted disease?
Dr. Leyse: No. Close contact, skin to skin, or shared linens, towels, etc., between an infected person and others can transmit the virus. Obviously, since sex involves skin-to-skin contact, MPV can easily be transmitted that way as well. Anyone can be infected by MPV, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Can I get vaccinated to protect myself?
Dr. Leyse: Right now, in this area, vaccines are only available to people who think they may have been exposed to MPV. If you think you have been exposed, contact your primary care provider.
Those with a previous smallpox vaccination – a close cousin of MPV -- may offer some protection, but the vaccine’s effectiveness wanes significantly over time. Most people have never received a smallpox vaccination. Chickenpox and shingles vaccinations offer no protection from MPV because that is an entirely different family of virus.