By Joshua Lenchus, D.O.,
Interim Chief Medical Officer, Broward Health
The last thing a COVID-19-weary America wants to grapple with is another virus. With the arrival of monkeypox in the United States, our community should take comfort in knowing that this is a relatively rare disease that is familiar to scientists and health experts.
The Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have taken immediate measures to identify, isolate and treat the patients. The health agencies are also conducting contact tracing.
Health experts who are tracing and studying the disease recently discovered that monkeypox has undergone mutations, and it may have been circulating for years. However, it’s too early to say how the mutations affect the virus’ severity or transmissibility.
Although monkeypox is significantly less infectious than COVID-19, it can impact people who have weakened immune systems because of a health condition or a medication that can suppress an immune response.
Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted infection, however it can be passed on during sex.
Is It Monkeypox?
Monkeypox has an extended incubation period of up to three weeks. During this time, a person may be contagious and not know it, leading to the disease spreading undetected.
As monkeypox progresses in a person, the usual viral symptoms of fever, headache, muscle aches and exhaustion are joined by two more specific signs: Swollen lymph nodes and a rash that often begins on the face or in the mouth. This rash can be confused with herpes, syphilis or chicken pox.
Monkeypox can be transmitted through bodily fluids or broken skin, touching the rash or coming into contact with infected bedsheets or linens. Monkeypox is more likely to be transmitted through large droplets, such as those exhaled during speaking face-to-face, as opposed to prolonged aerosol transmission of COVID-19 where virus particles can hang in the air even after an infected person has left the room.
If you suspect you or a loved one has contracted monkeypox, take immediate steps to isolate yourself and consult with a physician. To protect others, use infection prevention protocols such as hand washing, personal protective equipment like face masks. Avoid direct contact with the person suspected to have monkeypox and any items they have handled, such as bedding or clothing.
What About a Vaccine?
Currently, the federal government keeps a supply of a new type of smallpox vaccination on hand in case of an outbreak. This vaccine, known as Imvamune or Imvanex, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of both smallpox and monkeypox in adults over 18 years of age. However, at this point, because the incidence rate is so low, there is no need to receive this vaccine. Should monkeypox begin to spread beyond its current levels, an organized vaccine and booster program could be made available.
Be Alert but Not Alarmed
Here in the U.S., we have a far greater chance of contracting COVID-19 than monkeypox. Due to the monkeypox mutations, additional cases are likely to occur, it’s important to stay informed but not alarmed about this disease. Keep your distance from someone who has monkeypox or is exhibiting symptoms. If you suspect you may have monkeypox, the best thing to do is isolate and call your physician to find out the next steps.
Joshua Lenchus, D.O., is the Interim Chief Medical Officer at Broward Health.