Should We Be Worried About Monkeypox?

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Monkeypox is rare and usually confined to Central and West African countries, but a small spate of cases here and in Europe has some scientists concerned. Is this a nothingburger or are we about to see the Centers for Disease Control dropping edicts? Here’s what they’re saying so far:

“CDC is urging healthcare providers in the U.S. to be alert for patients who have rash illnesses consistent with monkeypox, regardless of whether they have travel or specific risk factors for monkeypox and regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” CDC representatives said in a statement.

Already the internet is lighting up, with some users posting theories that it’s a conspiracy (Bill Gates must be behind it), others saying the last thing they want to hear about is another virus, and some with humor:

The case numbers so far are small, with the U.K. reporting 20 confirmed infections. From CNBC:

Germany on Friday reported its first case of the virus, becoming the latest European country to identify an outbreak alongside the U.K., Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Sweden. The U.S.and Australia this week also confirmed their first cases, as experts attempt to determine the root cause of  the recent spike.

Some cases have been linked to travel from Africa, but more recent infections are thought to have spread in the community, raising concerns about a potential wider outbreak.

The monkeypox virus was first detected in captive monkeys in 1958, with the first human case recorded in 1970. It’s part of the same family as smallpox, but it’s not as serious and usually goes away on its own. From Livescience :

Like many viruses, monkeypox begins with a fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and headache, but it also causes swollen lymph nodes, according to the CDC. By one to three days after a fever sets in, people may develop a rash that starts on the face and spreads across the body. The rash evolves through several stages before disappearing. First, macules, or light brown spots, crop up across the body. Next, so-called papules, which are raised bumps, appear. After that, the rash morphs into vesicles and pustules, which look like pus-filled pimples. Finally, these scab over and fall off. The disease typically takes two to four weeks to resolve, CDC notes.

First of all—YUCK. Any discussion that includes the word “pustules” is not for me. WARNING: graphic content.

How do you catch this lovely virus? The Cleveland Clinic explains:

Monkeypox is spread when you come into contact with an animal or a person infected with the virus. Animal-to-person transmission occurs through broken skin, like from bites or scratches, or through direct contact with an infected animal’s blood, bodily fluids or pox lesions.

There is also evidence that monkeypox may spread in the gay community, as Livescience reports that you are in the vulnerable class if “you are a man who regularly has intimate contact with other men.”

One reason not to get too worked over this latest virus: There’s a monkeypox vaccine, and it’s been around for a while. The US just bought 13 million doses after a Massachusetts man contracted it, officials said Thursday. (Thirteen million doses because of one case? Either they’re not telling us something, or that’s massive overkill. Time will tell.)

Also, if you’ve had a smallpox vaccine, it’s 85 percent effective against the monkey.

I hesitate to say after our experience of the last two years that monkeypox doesn’t seem a major cause for worry, because it’s entirely possible that the outbreaks get worse. But I personally worry more about the CDC’s reaction than I do about contracting it. My life wasn’t turned upside down by COVID (I had it and meh)—my life was turned upside down by the response to it.

Monkeypox is something to keep an eye on, but as of now the case numbers are low, infections usually go away on their own,  and it’s no time to panic. Plus, you could always wear this mask: (Editor’s note: the tweet has been deleted or removed, but below is a screenshot of an identical tweet.)

Monkeypox mask. Credit: Twitter