What to do if you get monkeypox: symptoms, vaccinations and treatment

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Over the past few months in monkeypox has spread around the world, leaving public health agencies and hospitals to fear the worst as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease of the same family of viruses as smallpox and can be transmitted to humans and animals. The disease was first identified in 1958 when two colonies of African monkeys began to develop smallpox-like symptoms. Despite the name, the exact source of this disease is unknown, and various non-human primates can infect humans with the virus.

The virus is commonly found in tropical environments in Central and West Africa, where animals that carry the disease live. The 2022 global outbreak has been linked to the resumption of international travel to countries where the disease is present.

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What are the symptoms?

Monkeypox symptoms in humans include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and blisters that usually dry out on the skin, according to the World Health Organization. People may experience mild symptoms, but the ability to carry the virus asymptomatically is unknown at this time. These symptoms usually last 2 to 4 weeks after initial contact.

Monkeypox lesion on a woman's hand.

Monkeypox lesion on a woman’s hand.
(CDC/Getty Images)

The WHO notes that signs of a rash usually appear within 24 to 72 hours of the onset of fever, and lesions may be filled with clear or yellowish fluid. The rash usually concentrates on the face, palms, and soles of the feet, but may also spread to the genitals, eyes, and mouth.

Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?

Several vaccines used to treat smallpox provide additional protection against monkeypox, according to the WHO, and those who have been vaccinated against smallpox may also have some protection. Imvanaex is a smallpox vaccine approved in 2019 to prevent monkeypox, but the drug is not available to most people.

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The WHO notes that the vaccines used to treat smallpox in 1980 are not available because it was the first disease to be completely eradicated. Health agencies are working to make new smallpox vaccines more accessible to the public.

What are the treatments?

Most of the symptoms of monkeypox usually go away on their own without the need for intensive treatment or medical attention. However, the WHO and CDC recommend avoiding scratching or touching mouth or eye sores.

For severe cases, WHO recommends the use of vaccinia immunoglobulin (VIG), an antiviral drug designed to treat smallpox that was approved for monkeypox back in January. Patients should also avoid dehydration and eat food to maintain their nutritional status.

Cases of monkeypox can be more severe in children, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems.

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How many cases?

Since the outbreak began in 2022 confirmed cases of monkeypox as of June 23, there are 4,106 confirmed cases worldwide in 47 different countries, according to data compiled by the CDC. Moreover, the number of cases in the US is 173 cases in more than 20 states.