Author: Sara Habibipour
Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (transmitted from animals to humans) belonging to the Orthopoxvirus genus of the Poxviridae family. There are two different clades of this DNA virus: the Congo basin clade (more severe disease) and the West African clade (less severe disease).
With the name “monkeypox” you may think that the virus comes from monkeys, but that’s actually false. Its exact reservoir is unknown, but it has been identified in several rodent populations. It’s given its name because the virus was first identified in crab-eating macaques in 1958. It wasn’t actually until 1970 that a human had contracted monkeypox.
To date, there have been several hundred cases found in non-endemic countries across the globe including the US, Germany, Portugal, Spain, the UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Reported cases thus far have not been associated with travel to the endemic area. And, to date, all of the cases have been classified through PCR as belonging to the West African clade. Based on currently available information, men who have sex with men are at greater risk for catching monkeypox.
Monkeypox is known for its distinctive rash that progresses from small red bumps to fluid-filled blisters. Monkeypox is most easily spread through the bursting of these lesions and the fluid that comes out of them. Other symptoms tend to be less severe, including fever and swollen lymph nodes. It can be fatal for people with weakened immune systems, but, in general, it has a fatality rate of only about 1%.
Monkeypox is actually closely related to smallpox (which was eradicated in 1980). The smallpox vaccine–most notably Jynneos–can actually be used to prevent monkeypox, however it hasn’t been widely available since the eradication of smallpox. There isn’t a certain drug that will cure monkeypox either; treatment is mostly just symptom management.
The CDC made an announcement a couple days ago saying that wearing a mask while traveling could help prevent the spread of monkeypox, but they have now removed that statement from their website as it caused too much confusion. Monkeypox is not likely transmitted in the same way that COVID-19 is; it doesn’t linger in the air as long and there haven’t been any reported cases in the past where someone has caught monkeypox on a flight (even a long, international one). So, although this virus definitely requires the attention of the public health community, it isn't a major cause for concern (and hopefully never will be). If you think you have monkeypox, make sure to contact your health provider so you can receive proper testing.