Monkeypox has now spread to at least 75 countries with over 5,000 cases in the United States and more than 800 cases in California as of July 31, according to the California Department of Health.
California’s governor on Monday declared a state of emergency to speed efforts to combat the monkeypox outbreak, becoming the second state in three days to take the step.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the declaration will help the state coordinate a government-wide response, seek more vaccines and lead outreach and education efforts on where people can get treatment and vaccines.
On July 22, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern,” up there with COVID-19 and polio.
What is monkeypox? Should you be worried about it? How can you tell if you have it? We’ve got answers.
Monkeypox sightings around California
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It’s similar to smallpox (and from the same family of viruses) but it’s milder and less rarely fatal. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.
Monkeypox occurs mostly in tropical rainforest areas in central and west Africa and is occasionally found in other regions from travelers, imported animals or close contact with an infected person.
Is monkeypox fatal? Can monkeypox be cured?
Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox, although there is a smallpox vaccine and antiviral drugs approved by the FDA to treat smallpox may be considered for emergency treatment for monkeypox.
According to the World Health Organization, the case fatality ratio has been around 3-6% in recent times. People most likely to develop severe forms of the disease are children younger than 8, people with eczema, the very old and those with compromised immune systems.
Monkeypox can, however, be extremely painful. The lesions can cause severe pain, both persistently, and, depending on the location, when using the bathroom or eating.
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Complications of monkeypox can include other infections, bronchopneumonia, sepsis, encephalitis, scarring, infection of the cornea leading to blindness, and, in rare cases, death.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Fever, headache, muscle and back aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, and a rash of painful, itchy lesions. Traditionally the rash started on the face and then spread to other parts of the body such as on or near the genitals or anus, the hands, feet, and chest but some sources are reporting rashes starting in the groin.
Most people with monkeypox will get a rash, some get other symptoms later or not at all.
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What does monkeypox look like?
The rash usually begins within a few days of a fever, although in this latest outbreak the rash has been spotted first, said Dr. Marshall Glesby, an infectious disease specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian.
Once it arrives, the rash begins as flat spots that turn into bumps looking like pimples or blisters. From a couple of weeks to a month these skin lesions fill with clear fluid and gradually turn into pustules (lesions filled with yellowish fluid), and then the lesions dry up and the crusts fall off. The number of lesions can range from one or two to hundreds.
How can I tell the difference between measles, chickenpox and monkeypox? Is monkeypox just shingles?
It’s not easy. Chickenpox and monkeypox have been mistaken for each other and in some cases only medical tests will tell you which one.
The spread of the rash also may give you a clue. Monkeypox rashes often start on the face and spread elsewhere, usually one to five days after a fever. Chickenpox rashes tend to start on the chest, face and back, one to two days after a fever.
The biggest difference is that monkeypox can give you swollen lymph nodes and chickenpox does not. Testing will determine that for certain.
Measles rashes start at the hairline or forehead and spread down, and they look like flat red spots or slightly raised bumps, without fluid in them.
Monkeypox is not related to shingles, which is caused by the herpes virus that causes chickenpox. A shingles rash is usually only on one narrow strip of skin on just one side of the body,
How long does monkeypox last? How long is monkeypox contagious?
Symptoms usually begin within three weeks of exposure to the virus, according to the CDC. From the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed — usually about 2-4 weeks — you are contagious.
How is monkeypox transmitted and contracted?
Monkeypox is spread through close, personal contact, often skin-to-skin. That can include direct contact with the rash, scabs, bodily fluids or respiratory droplets from someone with the virus.
Monkeypox is not an STD, but it can be spread through oral, anal and vaginal sex or touching the genitals of a person with the virus. Also through hugging, kissing, massage, or prolonged face-to-face contact.
You cannot get monkeypox through casual contact (handshake, peck on the cheek) or a toilet seat.
It’s possible monkeypox may be transmitted by touching objects or fabrics (bedclothes, towels, clothing, sex toys) used by someone who is infected but there is no evidence anyone has caught it that way during this outbreak, Glesby said.
It’s also possible to get monkeypox from infected animals, from a bite, scratch or bodily fluids, primarily from rodents. In the last outbreak in 2003, people were infected after having contact with pet prairie dogs.
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What do I do if I get a rash?
If you have a new or unexplained rash or other symptoms, avoid close contact with anyone until you can be checked out by a healthcare provider or local clinic. That includes sex or physical intimacy.
You may need to ask specifically for a monkeypox test, as some healthcare providers are still learning about this as well and may be unaware it’s spreading in the community.
Should I get vaccinated against monkeypox?
So far, those at highest risk for monkeypox in the 2022 outbreak are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men, health officials say. It’s also a danger for lab and medical personnel and any other people such as close family members of infected people who might be exposed to monkeypox.
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Where can I find the monkeypox vaccine near me? Who is eligible for the monkeypox vaccine?
There are two vaccines licensed by the FDA but one of them, ACAM2000, is not recommended for people with compromised immune systems or those who have close contact with them because it uses a live virus that can be transmissible. The safer vaccine, JYNNEOS or MVA, is not as widely available but the Biden administration has made more than 1.1 million doses of vaccine available, with 5.5 million more coming in 2023. It requires two doses, taken four weeks apart.
Does the smallpox vaccine protect against monkeypox?
If you are old enough that you received a smallpox vaccine before regular vaccination ended in the U.S. in the 1970s, you likely will still have some protection from monkeypox, experts say, but how much isn’t clear yet.
Should I be concerned about monkeypox?
You should remain aware of it, and pay attention to local media reporting and updates from the local and state Department of Health.
Is monkeypox a gay disease?
No. Although the latest outbreak came to public attention because of an apparent superspreader event among raves and bathhouses in Europe, the virus has probably been spreading and evolving in Nigeria for the past five years, according to Dr. Ali Khan, an epidemiologist and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Monkeypox can be transmitted through close or intimate contact between anyone of any sexual orientation. Two children in the U.S. in close contact with infected family members have been diagnosed with it.
Gay people should not be stigmatized just because the virus started circulating among men who have sex with men, said Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious disease specialist at the Ohio State University Medical Center.
“Don’t think of this as a gay disease. It’s a disease that can occur through close contact,” he said.
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Contributing: Treasure Coast Newspapers, Karen Weintraub, Mike Snyder, The Desert Sun, Associated Press, USA TODAY, Douglas Ray, Gainesville Sun