When you hear the word monkeypox, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, it’s an image of a sick, monkey-like creature. Of course, there are no monkeys with pox-like symptoms that humans need to worry about – but there are viruses similar to those that cause human smallpox in animals and insects such as squirrels, rats, and mice.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is an uncommon viral infection that’s found primarily in West African countries. It’s rarely fatal, but can be serious enough that you should call your doctor immediately if you suspect you’ve been infected. A rash of small, fluid-filled blisters usually appears first, often followed by fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. In most cases it takes about 10 days for symptoms to clear up. But some sufferers experience permanent scarring or paralysis from severe cases of monkeypox.
How do you get infected?
To contract monkeypox, you must come into contact with an infected animal (such as a monkey) or someone who is infected. People can get infected through breathing in or touching virus particles, through sexual contact, by injecting drugs and sharing needles with someone who is infected or from being bitten by a rabid animal. Children can be exposed while playing in animal waste near monkeys or other wild animals. Washing your hands after petting animals can lower your risk of infection.
How dangerous is it?
The CDC says monkeypox is not a significant risk to people in the United States, since it’s not very contagious and there are no documented cases of it spreading from person-to-person here. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore any symptoms, because if it is monkeypox—and you can’t be sure without getting tested—it could still spread quickly if not treated immediately.
What if I’m infected?
The CDC reports that you’re most likely to contract monkeypox if you live in close quarters with an infected individual, particularly if that person is coughing or sneezing. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible for you to become infected while visiting a less crowded area of Africa.
Where did this virus come from?
Experts aren’t sure, but they say it probably was carried over by a human, not an animal. The disease is related to smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, so most people have never been exposed. But many Africans have immunity because they’ve had smallpox shots. Since humans can spread it from person to person through respiratory droplets or fluids from blisters—such as saliva or urine—people without immunity are especially vulnerable.
Is there a cure?
No. As of now, there is no cure for monkeypox, although that could change in time. Luckily, most cases of monkeypox are mild, but there are ways to avoid getting sick or spreading it to others. First of all, if you live in an area where Monkeypox is prevalent (Africa), don’t touch any wild animals—especially monkeys! Second of all, if you feel like you might have contracted it, stay home and rest until you’re better.
Does it spread from person to person?
Yes, monkeypox can spread from person to person. While most of those infected by monkeypox will never know they have it because their symptoms are mild or non-existent, if you have come into contact with someone who has been infected you should seek immediate medical attention. Note that while a vaccine exists for small pox there is no treatment or cure for monkeypox.
Who’s at risk for infection?
Although monkeypox is a rare disease, it does not discriminate by race or age. Anyone can get infected with monkeypox, but young children are more likely than adults to develop severe cases of infection. Infection is more common in areas where wild animals like squirrels and rodents live. These creatures may harbor a similar virus—called variola—that causes smallpox in humans. Humans can contract monkeypox from direct contact with an infected animal or object, such as clothing or bedding.