Monkeypox – Cause for Alarm? Not Really. What You Need to Know

On June 2, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the first case of monkeypox in the state. Since risk to the public remains extremely low, Memorial Health discourages alarm or anxiety related to news reports. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about monkeypox.

  • What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, part of the same family as smallpox, though typically less severe. Generally occurring in remote parts of Central and West Africa, the virus was first detected in captive monkeys in 1958. The first human case was recorded in 1970. Cases outside of Africa have historically been uncommon, and typically linked to international travel or imported animals. Previous cases have been reported in Israel, the U.K., Singapore and the U.S., which, in 2003, reported 81 cases linked to prairie dogs infected by imported animals.
  • How do you catch monkeypox? Monkeypox spreads when someone comes into close contact with another person, animal or material infected with the virus. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose and mouth. Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, though it can be passed on during sex.
  • Symptoms? Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headaches, muscle ache, swelling and back pain. Patients typically develop a rash one to three days after the appearance of fever, often beginning on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash, which can cause severe itching, then goes through several stages before the legions scab and fall off. The infection typically lasts two to four weeks and usually clears up on its own.
  • Treatment? There are currently no proven, safe treatments for monkeypox, though most cases are mild. People suspected of having the virus may be isolated in a negative pressure room — spaces used to isolate patients — and monitored by healthcare professionals using personal protective equipment. Smallpox vaccines have, however, proven largely effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Countries including the U.K. and Spain are now offering the vaccine to those who have been exposed to infections to help reduce symptoms and limit the spread.
  • How dangerous is it? Monkeypox cases can occasionally be severe, with some deaths having been reported in West Africa. However, health authorities stress that we are not on the brink of a serious outbreak and the risks to the public remain very low, as the virus does not spread easily between people and requires close personal contact with an infected symptomatic person.

If you experience new rashes or are concerned about monkeypox, contact your healthcare provider.