As America continues to struggle with COVID-19 variants, a monkeypox outbreak has reached almost every state.
Monkeypox – a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which causes similar-but-milder symptoms than smallpox – began appearing in countries where it is not endemic in May 2022.
Given the disease’s rapid spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global emergency on July 23, 2022.
Here’s what you need to know.
Where is Monkeypox Spreading in the US?
While experts have not identified any racial/ethnic risk factors for monkeypox, the US states with the highest monkeypox cases all have large Latino populations, including:
For all other state cases, check CDC’s monkeypox case map.
How is Monkeypox Spread?
The virus has been found mainly, but not exclusively, in men who have sex with men.
To date, very few cases in the US have been found outside this high-risk population.
However, “There’s nothing specific about monkeypox that would make it more common in men who have sex with men,” Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of infectious disease at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, told the New York Times. “It’s just a virus that found its way into that community of individuals.”
In other words, anyone can get monkeypox if they have close contact with an infected person.
According to the CDC, monkeypox can spread from person-to-person through:
- direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
- respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
- touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
- pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta
- being scratched or bitten by an infected animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal
It is not known if monkeypox can spread through semen or vaginal fluids.
To date, there are no specific risk factors that vary by race or ethnicity.
What Are Monkeypox Symptoms?
The illness typically lasts two to four weeks, according to the CDC.
Specific symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.
How Can You Prevent the Spread of Monkeypox?
The CDC recommends the following ways to avoid contracting monkeypox:
- Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox
- Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox
- Do not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox
- Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox
- Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
If you suspect you may be sick with monkeypox, isolate at home in a separate room or area away from people or pets you live with and contact your healthcare provider.
What Are the Treatments and Vaccines for Monkeypox?
There are no specific treatments for monkeypox. But there are antiviral drugs and vaccines that may be able to prevent the disease after exposure or make it less severe, according to the CDC.
Vaccines and drugs are already being distributed in the US to those who meet eligibility. Check with your local health department for more information.
For many, monkeypox may bring back worrisome memories of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, experts say you should not necessarily be afraid to leave your house and perform everyday activities.
“This is an infection that we need to be aware of,” Gulick told the New York Times. “But people don’t need to be fearful of it.”