Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. This virus is a type of poxvirus, a family of viruses that also includes:
- Variola virus, or smallpox
- Orf virus
- Molluscum contagiosum
Monkeypox typically results in a fever and non-specific symptoms about one to two weeks after exposure. A rash and weeping lesions that eventually dry, crust, and fall off develop after the fever, typically lasting for two to four weeks. A large number of lesions often develop; however, some people experience only a single lesion. The infection is fatal if untreated in about 1% to 3% of cases.
Monkey was initially detected in monkeys in 1958 during research on African primates. The first recorded human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. Until a 2022 outbreak, human cases were generally restricted to Central and Western African countries.
An ongoing outbreak began in May 2022. This resulted in the spread of monkeypox in areas where the disease had not previously occurred. The outbreak of is different from past ones in that its initial spread was primarily through intimate contact between homosexual males, a means of transmission that was not characteristic of previous outbreaks. This led to some resistance to testing because of the social stigma, which then may have increased the number of cases.
In response to the outbreak, the U.S. government released monkeypox testing kits to five commercial clinical laboratories to increase the country’s testing capacity.
The monkeypox outbreak occurring on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic has left some wondering whether the public health system is properly equipped to handle these situations. Much like at the start of the pandemic, patient access to monkeypox testing was problematic. However, it is important to note that monkeypox is far less infectious than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The spread of the monkeypox virus is still the subject of ongoing research. It is thought to be spread through several means, including:
- Contact with monkeypox lesions or fluid from these lesions.
- Contact with respiratory secretions from someone who is infected.
- Sexual or intimate contact with another person.
- Preparing or eating meat or other products from an infected animal.
Monkeypox testing is performed by taking lesion swab samples and testing these specimens using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. This method of testing examines the specimens for the presence of genetic material found in the virus. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against using specimens other than lesion swab samples to test for the virus. Thus, blood samples are not considered an effective option. As monkeypox becomes more prevalent, it is likely that new testing methods will be developed.
Monkeypox is still an area of ongoing research; however, most people with this disease will recover without medical intervention. Treatment may include the use of antivirals, especially in those who are more likely to develop a severe illness. Symptoms may also be treated as they develop.
Vaccinations for monkeypox exist and can help prevent monkeypox disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Presentation, two vaccines may be used:
- JYNNEOS vaccine.
- ACAM2000 vaccine.
Both inoculations also protect against smallpox.
Prior to the 2022 outbreak, there was only one other outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S. This occurred in 2003 and affected 47 people who were all exposed to pet prairie dogs. That was the first time that monkeypox was reported in the U.S., and it involved only animal-to-human transmission.
Between 2003 and 2022, only a few isolated infections were reported in the U.S. and exclusively involved travel-associated cases.
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