Dr. Paul Byers answers common monkeypox questions
The monkeypox virus has spread to dozens of countries and infected more than 44,000 people worldwide since the outbreak began in May. Nearly 16,000 of those infections have occurred in the United States, and 23 cases have been identified in Mississippi as of Aug. 25. Dr. Paul Byers, state epidemiologist, answered some of the most common questions about the disease for Mississippi Today.
Monkeypox was discovered in 1958. Cases usually occur in areas of West and Central Africa where monkeypox is endemic. Cases have occurred outside of these countries before but have been associated with travel to or exposure to someone who’s been in these endemic countries. In the current outbreak in the U.S. and worldwide, person-to-person transmission is occurring in countries that don’t normally report monkeypox.
Monkeypox is part of the variola virus family, the virus that causes smallpox. This a naturally occurring virus.
Monkeypox is spread through close personal, often skin-to-skin contact, including direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, their rash, scabs, or contact with respiratory secretions. Direct contact can include sexual contact, hugging or kissing, or prolonged face-to-face contact. Monkeypox can also be contracted by touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
Anyone who engages in close personal or physical contact with an infected person is at risk for contracting monkeypox.
Monkeypox is a virus closely related to smallpox, but not as severe and fatalities are rare. People with certain underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe infections. People with monkeypox develop a rash that may be located on the face, hands, feet, legs, genitals or other areas. Sometimes, people have flu-like symptoms before the rash. Some people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.
Monkeypox symptoms usually start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.
Adults 18 and older are eligible for the vaccine if:
- They have been in close physical contact (including household or sexual contact) with someone diagnosed with monkeypox,
- Or they identify as gay, bisexual, or as other men who have sex with men, or as a transgender individual, and they report:
- Or having multiple or anonymous sex partners,
- Or having attended an event or venue where monkeypox may have been transmitted (for instance, by sex or skin-to-skin contact).
Individuals interested in monkeypox vaccine who meet the eligibility criteria are encouraged to call the Monkeypox Call Center at 1-877-978-6453 to determine their eligibility and a make vaccination appointment.
There is an antiviral medication, TPOXX, available for individuals with severe disease or who are at higher risk for severe disease.
Those who are at risk for monkeypox have been in close physical contact (including household or sexual contact) with someone diagnosed with monkeypox. To date, most of the cases have occurred among individuals who identify as gay, bisexual, other men who have sex with men or in transgender individuals. But anyone exposed to monkeypox is at risk for infection.