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Should We Be Worried About Monkeypox?

The outbreak, which causes a rash similar to smallpox, has reached Florida. Experts are saying that, so far, the risk is low.

By Allison Forsyth May 25, 2022

Monkeypox virus

Just when we thought we'd put pandemic-induced fear behind us, headlines about a new virus, monkeypox, are flooding our newsfeeds.

The virus is actually not new. It's been around for ages, but has typically been confined to central and west Africa. The virus, which causes lesions on the skin and other flu-like symptoms, has been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo among primates since the 1950s and humans since the 1970s.

Now, the world is experiencing a monkeypox outbreak, with the World Health Organization reporting more than 190 suspected or confirmed cases in 16 countries.

Even though monkeypox virus is transmissible, it is less contagious than Covid-19. It is contracted through skin-to-skin contact, sexual transmission and sometimes water droplets from an infected person. So far, public health officials agree that the risk to the general public remains low.

Where did it start?

The first new monkeypox case was found in the United Kingdom on May 7, in a man who had recently traveled to Nigeria. A few more cases were detected in Spain and Belgium as a result of raves that involved large amounts of people. This has led to the theory that the primary form of transmission is through sexual contact. Monkeypox has also made its way to the United States.

On May 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a positive case in a Massachusetts man who fell ill with a rash and flu-like symptoms after returning from a trip to Canada. Then, on Thursday, the New York City Department of Health announced it is investigating a possible case of monkeypox after a New York man tested positive for orthopoxvirus, which is in the monkeypox family.

There is one suspected case in Broward County in Florida. State health officials are investigating this case. If positive, it will be the third case in the United States. There are no suspected or confirmed cases in the Sarasota-Manatee area.

What's the risk?

Unlike Covid-19, the risk of hospitalization and death from monkeypox is relatively low. In recent years, the illness has been fatal in only 6 percent of infections. All recent cases have been mild and no deaths have been reported.

"This is not Covid," the former head of the World Health Organization's emergencies department, Dr. David Heymann, told the Associated Press. "We need to slow it down, but it does not spread in the air and we have vaccines to protect against it."

What are the symptoms?

Contraction occurs through skin-to-skin contact, sexual contact and contact with an infected person's belongings, such as clothing or bedding. Onset of symptoms can occur up to three weeks after infection and include fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face and genitals that can become pus-filled and red. Most people recover within several weeks and do not require hospitalization.

Is there a treatment?

The smallpox vaccine, which has not been administered in the United States since 1972, has proven effective against monkeypox. In addition, antiviral drugs are being developed as the potential risks of heightened transmission are assessed.

"There are vaccines that can help prevent it," says Dr. Douglas Brust, an infectious disease specialist at CAN Community Health in Sarasota. "It's usually a mild disease and there are antivirals used to treat severe cases. These drugs were all approved for smallpox, but should work for monkeypox, too."

The World Health Organization has described the monkeypox outbreak as "containable." Officials have cautioned people against blaming or stigmatizing groups that have been affected so far, stating that the disease can infect anyone.

Heymann also emphasized in a public session for the World Health Organization that "the disease is unlikely to trigger widespread transmission."

If you are concerned about monkeypox, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The Centers for Disease Control recommends staying distanced from those who are exhibiting symptoms, wear a mask when you can in public and wash your hands often.

Return to this post to stay updated on monkeypox in Florida and for resources where you can learn more.

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