Test tubes labeled “Monkeypox virus positive and negative” are seen in this photo taken on May 23, 2022.
Dado Ruvic | Reuters
A recent outbreak of monkeypox in the United States, Europe, Australia and the Middle East have stunned health experts, raising concerns about a larger outbreak.
As of Wednesday, there were 346 confirmed and suspected cases in 22 countries outside of Africa where the virus is endemic, according to Our World in Data.
It marks the first known community spread of the virus. Prior to this outbreak, cases had been linked to traveling to regions where the virus is endemic or to imported animals carrying the virus.
The majority of new cases have spread through sex, with a particular concentration among men who have sex with other men. However, the World Health Organization warns that anyone could be at risk of contracting the virus. Children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.
“Anyone who has close contact with someone who is contagious is at risk,” said a press release on the WHO website on Wednesday.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the same family as smallpox, although it’s usually less serious. Smallpox vaccination has been shown to be 85% effective against monkeypox.
The WHO said Monday it was unlikely that mass vaccination would be needed to tackle the outbreak. But given the pace of the outbreak and the lack of clarity about its cause, the public health agency urged people to practice good hygiene and safe sex to contain the spread.
Protect yourself from monkeypox
While health experts agree that the risks to the general public are small, there are several precautions you can take to reduce your risk of contracting the virus.
Recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UK National Health Service and the WHO include:
- Avoid contact with people who have recently been diagnosed with the virus or who may have been infected.
- Wear a face mask if you are in close contact with someone who has symptoms.
- Use condoms and watch for symptoms if you’ve recently changed sex partners.
- Avoid contact with animals that could carry the virus. This includes sick or dead animals and particularly those with a history of infection such as monkeys, rodents and prairie dogs.
- Practice good hand hygiene, especially after handling infected — or suspected — animals or people. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients with confirmed or suspected monkeypox infection.
This 2003 electron micrograph, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions (left) and spherical immature virions (right) isolated from a sample of human skin associated with the prairie dog outbreak of 2003.
Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner | CDC via AP
Monkeypox can also be transmitted through surfaces and materials, so it is advisable to avoid contact with materials that have come into contact with a sick person or animal.
“This is a virus that’s super stable outside of the human host, allowing it to live on objects like blankets and things like that,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Monday.
“A good practice would be to wash clothes and bedding regularly at a high temperature,” Emmanuel Andre, a professor of medicine at Belgium’s Ku Leuven University, told CNBC on Wednesday.
However, he said he didn’t think there was a need for the general public to avoid public areas, taxis, shopping and hotels.
“The general population doesn’t have to take a lot more precautions than we do in normal life,” he said. “If people are in the high-risk group and are aware they are in a high-risk environment, they should take extra precautions.”
What to do with monkey pox?
If you suspect you have contracted monkeypox, isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek immediate medical attention.
Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling, and back pain. Rashes and lesions then typically appear on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals within one to five days. These rashes turn into raised bumps and then blisters that can fill with white fluid before breaking up and becoming scabs.
This handout graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows symptoms of one of the first known cases of monkeypox virus on a patient’s hand on May 27, 2003.
CDC | Getty Images
However, many of the symptoms of the virus can easily be mistaken for other diseases such as chickenpox, herpes or syphilis, so medical confirmation is important.
If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, you will need to isolate yourself until the virus is cleared. The illness is usually mild and most people recover within 2 to 4 weeks.
While medical advice currently varies from country to country, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) advises you may need to stay in a specialist hospital to prevent an infection from spreading to others.