On Thursday, President Biden’s health secretary declared the growing monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency, a rare designation that signals that the virus now represents a significant risk to Americans.
The declaration comes more than a week after the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global emergency. So far, there are more than 6,300 cases in the United States, and at least 46 confirmed cases in Minnesota as of publication.
This terminology can sound all too familiar. COVID-19 is still considered a global pandemic. While the headlines are grim and certainly a reason to be concerned, the slightly good news is that monkeypox is less contagious and much less likely to be deadly than COVID. However, the disease still causes pain that some patients have compared to glass shards scraping against the skin.
Currently, the majority of cases in the US are among men who have sex with men, but anyone can contract the disease regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. If left unchecked, the virus could spread to many other groups, as nothing about it limits the spread to men who have sex with men.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, but rather a disease spread through skin-to-skin contact. However, there is a fear that certain misconceptions and stigma of monkeypox will spread misinformation that is harmful to the LGBTQ+ community. Many have also drawn comparisons between the government and public’s response to monkeypox to the early years of the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic that disproportionately affected the gay and bisexual male community.
Local organizations such as Red Door, Minnesota’s largest STD and HIV clinic, have received monkeypox vaccines and test kits, but supplies are limited. The Mayo Clinic is one of the five commercial laboratory companies chosen by the Department of Health and Human Services to offer monkeypox testing.
However, the process has been slowed due to an unorganized governmental response to combat the virus. Many health departments in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., and elsewhere say they still don’t have enough shots to meet demand and have stopped scheduling appointments for second vaccine doses to stretch supplies. Health experts believe that irreversible damage may already be done, despite the Biden Administration’s pushback against criticism that the U.S. has already missed the window to contain the virus.
What are the symptoms?
The CDC has images to help identify monkeypox cases. While monkeypox is gaining attention for the rash of painful sores that cover a patient’s body, there are a number of other symptoms that can arise from infection. Infections vary—some patients get a rash first, followed by other symptoms, and others only experience the rash. Other symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat, nasal congestion, cough or other respiratory symptoms
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside of the mouth and other parts of the body like hands, feet, chest and genitals.
How long does it last?
It typically lasts 2-4 weeks, though a rash can go through different stages before healing, according to the CDC.
How does it spread?
The CDC lists a number of ways that the virus can spread, from close contact with someone who is infected— direct contact with the rash, scabs or bodily fluids. From respiratory secretions during extended face-to-face contact or intimate physical contact like kissing, cuddling, or sex. Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.
It is also spread through contact with items like dishes, clothing, bandages, or linens that have previously been touched by the infectious rash or body fluids. It can also spread from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by eating meat or using products from an infected animal.
Is monkeypox an STD?
No, but it can be spread through close physical and intimate contact, including sex. People can lower their risk by practicing the CDC’s safe sex guidelines.
How long does it take to show symptoms?
Symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after infection. People who don’t have symptoms can’t spread the virus. The CDC says, monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.
It’s also important to stay vigilant if you’ve had a known exposure, or have engaged in activities that have higher risk factors.
What should I do if I have symptoms?
If you develop an unexplained rash or other monkeypox symptoms, the CDC recommends you see a healthcare provider immediately. You should avoid close contact—including intimate, physical contact—with other people, pets, and other animals until a healthcare provider examines you.
How and where can I get tested?
Officials from M Health Fairview and Allina Health announced that monkeypox testing is available to their patients anywhere care is provided. Testing is done by directly swabbing a lesion and sending it to a lab. Results should be available within 2-3 days.
What if I test positive for monkeypox?
The CDC recommends you stay isolated and take precautions until your rash has healed, all scabs have fallen, and you’ve developed a fresh layer of intact skin. You should remain isolated if you have other symptoms including a fever or respiratory symptoms. Only leave isolation to see a healthcare provider. If you need to leave isolation you should cover the rash and wear a well-fitting mask and avoid public transportation.
Who can get vaccinated?
Currently, the CDC isn’t recommending widespread vaccination. And only recommends vaccination for people who have been in close contact with people who have monkeypox. The Minnesota Department of Health says vaccinations given within 4 days of exposure may prevent the onset of the disease. Vaccination from 4-14 days might not prevent infection but may decrease the severity of the illness.
MDH lists specific eligibility for the vaccine which includes people who have been exposed to monkeypox, people who are HIV+ and are sexually active, and others who are at high risk for exposure.
Where can I get vaccinated?
The best bet to get vaccinated is to contact your primary care provider. Anyone who doesn’t have one, can get in touch with Red Door Clinic for testing or to request a vaccination appointment.
Can my pet get monkeypox?
The CDC doesn’t believe that monkeypox poses a high risk to pets, but people with monkeypox should still avoid contact with animals while they recover.
Who is most at risk?
The CDC lists young children under 8 years of age, people who are pregnant or immunocompromised, and individuals with a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema at high risk for severe outcomes from monkeypox.
How do I protect myself from infection?
Avoid skin-to-skin contact with people who have been exposed or have a rash that looks like monkeypox. Avoid contact with materials or objects that a person with monkeypox has used and don’t share eating utensils or drinks. Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer especially before eating, touching your face or after using the bathroom.
What are some places I might want to avoid?
To decrease the risk of monkeypox infection, be cautious of activities and venues where close, skin-to-skin contact is common. Consider wearing long articles of clothing that cover exposed skin and plan on staying fully clothed. Be mindful of activities that might spread monkeypox. The CDC includes raves, parties, and enclosed spaces like saunas to have a higher likelihood of spreading monkeypox.