In 2004, Michael Crichton wrote a book called State of Fear. This fictional book had a larger-than-life message: The media want to keep us in a perpetual State of Fear. The obvious reason for this is to sell books, magazines, newspapers and television advertising. The publishing world catch-phrase that stands behind this philosophy is “If it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, fear is good for the media business.
But fear is not necessarily good for society. Truth is much better. In the interest of truth and to tamp down unwarranted fears, here are some facts about the little-known disease known as monkeypox.
Denise Roland, writing in The Wall Street Journal, gives us a good summary of monkeypox. Public-health officials say monkeypox poses little threat to the general public. Unfortunately, after the Covid pandemic experience of the last two and a half years, public health officials have lost a lot of their credibility. Nevertheless, they actually might be right this time.
The monkeypox outbreak, which was first detected in the U.K., has now led to more thn 7,000 confirmed or suspected cases across at least 40 countries including the U.S., Canada, Spain, Portugal and Australia, according to nonprofit data platform Global.health. Until recently, monkeypox was rarely found outside certain parts of West and Central Africa. In the U.S., 560 cases have been confirmed in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to take measures to slow the spread of monkeypox, but doesn’t believe at this point it constitutes a global health emergency. You may be thinking this sounds a lot like their advice concerning the Covid pandemic, which initially downplayed the significance of the virus – and you would be correct! The WHO lost much of their credibility, too, during the Covid pandemic. This highlights the importance of having faith in our public health organizations.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox, like Covid-19, is a viral disease. It typically circulates mostly among rodents in part of West and Central Africa. It was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in research monkeys, thereby giving its name. The first human case was recorded in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, most cases have been reported from rural areas of rainforest regions of the Congo Basin, although the illness has been detected in several countries in West and Central Africa, such as Nigeria.
What are monkeypox symptoms?
Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, chills and exhaustion. The incubation period is six to 13 days but can be longer, according to the WHO. So far, this sounds much like a case of Covid or influenza. The distinguishing characteristic is a chicken-pox-like rash that usually appears, beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. Eventually the rash forms scabs and then these fall off.
In the current outbreak, doctors have described some cases in which the rash appears before a fever and others in which the rash remains concentrated in the genital area. Some patients have only developed a rash without other symptoms, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
How contagious is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is not highly contagious. Most cases in Africa came from contact with an infected animal. People are thought to be contagious only when they have the rash. It spreads from person to person through close contact, such as touching clothing, bedding or towels, the skin, or through coughs or sneezes of a person infected. Dr. Walensky says the virus can be transmitted by sexual contact but it remains unknown if it spreads through semen or vaginal fluids. It is unknown at this time if asymptomatic people with the virus can spread the disease.
Close physical contact is the main mode of transmission, but some research suggests the virus can spread short distances via respiratory droplets. It is unknown if it can spread by tinier airborne particles known as aerosols. There is currently no evidence monkeypox is spreading in the absence of close interactions with infected people. U.S. health officials have found that the monkeypox cases are concentrated in specific communities. At least 16 of the cases were people who identify as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, according to the CDC, though monkeypox is not currently considered a sexually transmitted disease.
How deadly is monkeypox?
Most patents recover within a few weeks, but the disease can be fatal. The West African monkeypox that is driving the current outbreak is considered a less severe type. While research suggests a fatality rate of 1%, this is far lower than the more severe Central African type, which has a fatality rate of about 10%. However, these numbers are likely much higher in Africa, where healthcare facilities are rudimentary, than in more civilized countries with better healthcare available. So far, no deaths have been reported from nonendemic countries. (outside Africa)
Is monkeypox treatable?
Most cases are treated by relieving patients’ symptoms, skin care, pain relief, and treatment of secondary bacterial infections. In severe cases, an antiviral medication that is aimed at smallpox can be used, called tecovirimat. Another smallpox treatment, called vaccinia immune globulin, can be used if needed. The U.S. keeps doses of both in a national stockpile because of the potential for smallpox outbreak as a biological weapon.
The close relationship between monkeypox and smallpox means smallpox vaccination can be protective against monkeypox. Data from Africa suggest the smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective at preventing monkeypox., according to the CDC. Therefore, if you have been previously vaccinated for smallpox, you have little to worry about. However, since routine smallpox vaccination hasn’t occurred in the U.S. since that disease was eradicated in 1972, many Americans are vulnerable. A newer smallpox vaccine, called Jynneos, is approved by the FDA for monkeypox. The CDC is now recommending vaccination for people with presumed exposure to the viral illness. This recommendation is especially for men who have sex with men who recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where monkeypox was known to be spreading. The vaccine has also been recommended for healthcare workers in close contact with people with monkeypox.
In summary, monkeypox is a viral illness that spreads mostly through close physical contact, especially among gay men with multiple partners, though it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease. It is rarely fatal in communities with good healthcare facilities. If you have previously been vaccinated for smallpox, you probably have immunity. If not, you don’t need to be vaccinated unless you are a high-risk individual in close contact with others who may be infected.