If you keep up with the news like I keep up with the Kardashians, then you know that the U.S. has declared monkeypox a public health emergency. Now, if you’re wondering, “What does this mean?” or “What does this mean for me?”, we’re here to keep you in the loop.
What Medical Travelers Should Know About the Monkeypox Virus
Monkeypox has been saturating news outlets for weeks, but what do you really know about it? What is monkeypox? How is monkeypox transmitted? What do you need to know about monkeypox as a medical professional? Let’s find out.
**Editor’s note: The following information was up to date at the time of publication, but changes after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of the information.**
Monkeypox: What is it?
So, what exactly is monkeypox? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is a rare disease caused by an infection from the monkeypox virus. As part of the same virus family as smallpox, monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but monkeypox tends to be more mild and rarely fatal.
Now, where does monkeypox come from? Well, we first discovered monkeypox way back when in 1958 when there were two outbreaks in colonies of research monkeys, hence how it got its name “monkeypox.” However, the first human case of monkeypox wasn’t until 1970 and is thought to have been spread by common imported animals.
Flashforward to today and monkeypox is a public health concern globally. In the U.S. alone, there have been nearly 20,000 reported cases of monkeypox, according to the CDC. Globally, we’re looking at nearly 55,000 reported cases of monkeypox.
How is monkeypox spread?
Okay, so we know monkeypox is a rare disease that can affect both animals and humans. But how does monkeypox spread?
Here’s the thing: Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animal-to-human via direct contact with the infected blood, bodily fluids, or monkeypox lesions. In Africa alone, monkeypox has been found in rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, different species of monkeys, and more. People who eat animal products from an infected animal or people living nearby infected species are at risk of contracting monkeypox.
Plot twist: Not only is monkeypox transmitted from animal-to-human but can also be spread from person-to-person via respiratory secretions (like from coughing), skin lesions, or recently contaminated objects. Most commonly, human-to-human monkeypox transmission happens from close skin-to-skin contact, putting more people at risk.
According to WHO, the incubation period (aka the time from infection to the onset of symptoms) for monkeypox infection usually lasts from six to 13 days. The infection can be divided into two parts: The invasion period and the onset of skin lesions.
Lasting for up to five days, the invasion period of monkeypox can include more mild symptoms, such as:
- Intense headache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Back pain
- Muscle aches
- Lack of energy
About one to three days after the invasion period, patients may then experience monkeypox skin lesions and rashes. Typically, monkeypox rashes are more concentrated on the face (in 95% of cases), as well as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (in 75% of cases). The rash itself usually includes lesions with a flat base to slightly raised firm lesions and lesions filled with clear fluid to lesions filled with yellowish fluid. The number of lesions will vary from a few to a few hundred, depending on the individual patient. In most cases, monkeypox symptoms last for two to four weeks, but can last longer for severe cases.
While there’s not currently a cure for monkeypox, there are ways to avoid contracting this disease. One way is through a smallpox vaccination. Because smallpox and monkeypox are part of the same viral family, a smallpox vaccination can help prevent the transmission of monkeypox. The downside is that the original smallpox vaccine is no longer available. But on the plus side, a new and improved smallpox vaccination was approved in 2019 and has since been used to control and prevent a monkeypox outbreak.
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3 ways medical travelers can prepare for a monkeypox health crisis
While monkeypox may have a low hospitalization and death rate, it’s still helpful for health systems and medical professionals (like you!) to be prepared for an influx in patient care. According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), a global study showed that out of 528 people infected with monkeypox, only 13% were hospitalized.
However, just because the chances of monkeypox hospitalization is low doesn’t mean it won’t happen. In case it does, here’s what you can do to prepare:
No. 1: Consider a JYNNEOS vaccine
I’m sorry, a what? Oh, you know, a JYNNEOS vaccine! Otherwise known as the only FDA-approved monkeypox/smallpox vaccine. This two-dose vaccination series is approved for individuals aged 18 and older that’s used to prevent the contraction of monkeypox and smallpox—a two for one! Since this is the first monkeypox outbreak in recent times, we don’t yet know the effectiveness of the JYNNEOS vaccine, but the CDC and other health experts are conducting studies to determine the benefits and risks of vaccination. Stay tuned.
No. 2: Wash your hands often
It’s no surprise that keeping your hands clean can significantly reduce your chances of illness. I mean, you’re a badass medical professional, you know this already. So, to prevent the transmission of monkeypox, washing your hands often is one way to reduce your risk.
The catch is you must wash your hands the right way. Yes, there is a right way to wash your hands and here it is:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water
- Apply soap
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap (don’t forget the back of your hands, between your fingers, and underneath your fingernails!)
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (or sing the chorus of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” a couple times)
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
- Dry your hands using a clean towel
Boom, you did it. Good job, you.
No. 3: Avoid skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox patients
Since monkeypox can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, one of the best ways to protect yourself against monkeypox is by avoiding close contact to those who are infected. As a health care provider, you can protect yourself by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as scrubs, eyewear, gloves, and masks.
“Some of the [preventative] actions include not having contact or touching any skin or rash if somebody does have any skin rash that’s suggestive of monkeypox,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University. “We’re also recommending to not share towels, for example, or beddings or clothes with an individual who’s suspected of having monkeypox. And then importantly is to seek vaccination if the individual is at risk for monkeypox. And lastly, of course, if someone develops symptoms, we always say immediately seek care.”
If you are treating a patient with suspected monkeypox, do not touch the rash or scabs and if a loved one thinks they may have monkeypox, don’t kiss, hug, cuddle, or be intimate with that person. Otherwise, you risk contracting the virus yourself.
Like the coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis, the monkeypox outbreak is no joke. As they say, knowing is half the battle, and now you know what moves you can take to protect yourself and others against the monkeypox virus. As cases climb across the globe, it’s good to be prepared and know what you can do as a medical professional to help make a difference in the worldwide monkeypox outbreak.