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What is monkeypox?

Author: Moamen Al Zoubi, MD, Infectious Diseases

You may have heard about monkeypox in the news lately. Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It’s related to smallpox, but is less severe. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys used for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most cases occur in Africa. It’s been detected in many animals, such as rodents and monkeys.

Recently in the United States, monkeypox was diagnosed in a patient hospitalized in Massachusetts who had recently traveled to Canada via private transportation.

The monkeypox virus enters the body through the respiratory tract, broken skin and mucous membranes. The current outbreak suggests that close contact via sexual exposure is possibly a more efficient mode of transmission.

The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7−14 days, but can range from 5−21 days. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion

Within 1-3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, an infected person will develop a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.

Historically, the fatality rate is 1-10 percent but is potentially lower with early supportive care. At this time there is no specific proven treatment for those who have been infected with monkeypox and most people recover with supportive care.

“The vaccine for monkeypox is the smallpox vaccine, which successfully eradicated a disease that killed 300 million people since 1900. It was one of mankind’s greatest achievements,” said Dr. Moamen Al Zoubi, an infectious diseases physician at Mercyhealth.

Monkeypox cases are concerning, said Dr. Al Zoubi, but the risk of this becoming a COVID-like pandemic is zero percent.

This is because the monkeypox virus is not novel, is typically not deadly, is less contagious than COVID, has been around for five decades and is prevented by the smallpox vaccine.

If you suspect you have monkeypox, you should contact the infectious diseases department at Mercyhealth at 815.971.0699. You should also contact local and state public health authorities and the CDC (Emergency Operation Center number) at 770.488.7100.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization