Aug 12, 2022
How we can all help slow the spread of monkeypox
Clinicians and public health officials are offering guidance to help recognize, prevent and seek treatment for the virus monkeypox, which has spread across the globe this summer.
“There are a lot of misconceptions and confusion around this virus, but we have the tools and knowledge to prevent infection,” said Dr. Estevan Garcia, chief medical officer at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “We can all learn how to take steps to protect ourselves and others, so everyone can stay healthy and help slow the spread of this virus.”
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that can cause a painful rash, which may look like pimples or blisters, as well as flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. Most infections last two to four weeks and people are infectious while symptoms are present. The virus can lead to hospitalization for pain and other issues, and in rare cases can be fatal.
How does it spread?
Unlike COVID or the flu, monkeypox does not generally spread easily between people. It spreads mostly through skin-to-skin contact or body fluids. The virus can also spread through contact with items that touched a rash, blisters or body fluids, such as clothing or bedding, or through small droplets breathed out during prolonged close face-to-face interaction.
Who can get infected?
Anyone can be infected, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or age. However, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases in the current outbreak; a recent CDC analysis found women and children represent less than 1% of the confirmed U.S. cases. About 9,000 people are known to have been infected so far in the U.S., a number that has risen rapidly this summer and spurred a public health emergency declaration. The virus is spreading equally rapidly in many other countries, leading the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
How can we help prevent infection?
“Vaccination is an important tool, but vaccines are in limited supply at the moment,” said Dr. Ashley Yeats, vice president of medical operations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
That’s why being informed about how to reduce risk is key right now.
Dr. Ashley Yeats
This illness is caused by a virus that we are still learning about, and is behaving very differently than in prior monkeypox outbreaks. It’s important to talk openly and honestly about how we can help slow its spread until the vaccine supply has ramped up.”
For instance, we can:
- Take a temporary break from activities that increase exposure to monkeypox, including limiting sex partners to reduce the likelihood of exposure
- Talk with partners about any monkeypox symptoms
- Be aware of any new or unexplained rash or lesion and talk to a clinician about them
- If sick, avoid sex, kissing, touching and sharing any towels, linens or other items that have touched our bodies
- Learn more about infection control
When is it time to get tested?
If you have a new or unexplained rash, painful sores in the mouth, pain when going to the bathroom, or have been in close contact with someone with confirmed or suspected monkeypox, call your primary care provider or visit a public health clinic. Be sure to let them know in advance or when you check in that you are concerned about possible monkeypox exposure or infection.
How can monkeypox be treated?
Because the virus is closely related to smallpox, a vaccine used in the prevention of smallpox is given to protect adults 18 and over from getting monkeypox. The vaccine, called JYNNEOS, may also be given after a monkeypox virus exposure to help prevent the disease or make it less severe.
The vaccine takes 2-4 weeks to take effect, and close contact should be avoided during that time.
Massachusetts vaccination sites can be found here.
An antiviral treatment called Tecovirimat, or TPOXX, also is available through the Department of Public Health for patients at risk for more severe disease.
“Monkeypox is easier to prevent than to treat. That’s why we continue to emphasize awareness and prevention while the virus is spreading.”
said Dr. Estevan Garcia, chief medical officer at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.