A rare viral infection has now become a global health emergency. Monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to the one that causes smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s, but outbreaks of monkeypox are now emerging. Because monkeypox and smallpox viruses are similar, vaccines developed to protect against smallpox viruses also prevent monkeypox infections and are now being used for this purpose. The monkeypox virus is not nearly as transmissible as COVID-19, but certain people are at risk and should take precautions, including getting vaccinated if they meet the eligibility criteria.
If you suspect you may have been exposed to monkeypox or could possibly be infected, here are four questions to consider:
- Have you recently had intimate or close contact with others?
People most at risk of getting infected with monkeypox have had recent intimate or skin-to-skin contact, including:
- Men (cisgender or transgender) who have had sex with men
- People who recently had intimate contact with a new partner
- People who had prolonged face-to-face contact
- People who have recently gathered in large groups and have had close contact with many people
- Have you recently shared any items with another person?
You don't have to have intimate contact in order to get infected with monkeypox. The virus can also transfer from objects or items if the items touched an open sore from an infected person. For example, the virus can be spread among people living in the same household if they share the same bed, furniture, towel, clothes, or utensils. The virus can contaminate and transmit via items such as these.
- Do you have new bumps or sores?
Two of the most noticeable symptoms of monkeypox are a rash with bumps and pus-filled sores. These can appear anywhere on the body, including the mouth, genitals, and rectum. The bumps and open sores can become very uncomfortable and painful. If you notice these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.
- Are you feeling well?
Signs of illness such as fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes are other symptoms of monkeypox. A person can experience all or only a few of these symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. It's also possible to develop only a rash with no other symptoms of illness.
Prevention Through Vaccination
Vaccines can help prevent monkeypox. People should also take precautions to reduce their exposure to monkeypox.
Two vaccines may be used to prevent monkeypox virus infection. The preferred vaccine is made by Jynneos and is given as two doses 28 days apart. The body mounts a maximal immune response starting two weeks after the second dose. The ACAM2000 vaccine is approved by the FDA for use against smallpox but is available for use against monkeypox under an Expanded Access Investigational New Drug application. This vaccine is given as a single dose, however, due to side effects it's not recommended for everyone. It takes four weeks after ACAM2000 vaccination for the body to mount a maximal immune response.
Because of limited supply, monkeypox vaccination is currently available only for people who are at highest risk of infection and who meet all of the following criteria:
- Men (cisgender or transgender) who have sex with men
- Are not in a mutually exclusive, sexual relationship with only one person
- Who are not currently experiencing monkeypox symptoms
While many people older than age 50 were vaccinated against smallpox as young children, that vaccination may not provide protection against monkeypox today. People who have not received the smallpox vaccine within the last three years, and who meet eligibility criteria, should consider getting vaccinated.
Eligibility criteria may change when more vaccine becomes available. Contact your local health department for more information about vaccination.