Monkeypox, a viral disease most commonly found in West Africa, has been declared a global public health emergency. Cases have surged in over 70 countries since the outbreak was declared in May when a cluster of cases was documented in the UK.
The name “monkeypox” comes from the fact that this disease can be transmitted from animals to humans, not just between people. The most common hosts are rodents and primates.
Naturally, everyone is wondering if this could be the beginning of more long periods of self-isolation and quarantines as we recently saw for the COVID-19 pandemic. Or, perhaps most concerning, if the fatalities are expected to be as devastating.
The short answer is no – the monkeypox outbreak is unlikely to be as fatal as COVID.
But to understand why this is still a major concern, we need to dive into the long answer.
This variation of monkeypox is rarely fatal, as 99% of people who suffer from this disease are likely to survive. The other known variant is far more deadly with a 10% fatality ratio, but that isn’t the type we’re talking about.
Monkeypox is also a self-limited disease that typically lasts from 2 to 4 weeks, though its symptoms vary in severity. The most common symptoms are fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and rashes.
Unlike COVID, monkeypox is already well-studied and there is already a vaccine for it, as well as general-use antivirals that may help in controlling its symptoms. The main concern now is simply on how each country will react to the outbreak to avoid a sudden shortage in vaccines, especially in lesser-developed countries where fatalities might be higher.
Experts have also noted that monkeypox could become a new common STD in the US should it get out of hand. The disease is easily transmitted through physical contact, and should it fail to be contained early, it could become more and more common as an STD.
Parallel to this is how certain countries will respond, especially those where homosexuality is treated with hostility. Though monkeypox can transmit through any physical contact, a stigma might be formed around homosexuality in particular, as it was for AIDS/HIV.
And of course, with widespread contagion that goes unchecked, the higher the chances of new and more dangerous variants appearing. This is why despite not posing much of a threat now, it’s still in the best interest of the entire world that monkeypox isn’t allowed to go that far.
Since May, almost 3000 cases have been reported in the US.
As for prevention, most of what you learned during the COVID pandemic still applies. It’s worth noting that monkeypox doesn’t transmit through the air like COVID, and is most commonly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Obviously, hugging, kissing, or having sexual relations with someone that has monkeypox puts you at immense risk, but even simply shaking hands or touching the clothes of someone infected is dangerous.
In short, remember to wash your hands frequently, mind your physical interactions with others, and while monkeypox doesn’t transmit through the air, wearing a mask in crowded areas might be a good call. Remember that monkeypox can be transmitted through bodily fluids, and that includes saliva that can easily get in contact with others during regular conversations.
More developments should happen in the coming weeks as opportunities for vaccinations should become available, so keep a close eye on the news and take basic precautions to keep yourself safe in the meantime.
For more information on monkeypox, including symptoms and other prevention tips, check the official CDC page on monkeypox.