The number of confirmed cases of monkeypox, a virus related to smallpox that is usually restricted to Africa, is on the rise – particularly in Europe and North America.
The virus, which is less deadly than smallpox, usually lasts two to four weeks and symptoms can appear five to 21 days after infection.
Although healthcare professionals around the world stress that the risk to the general population is low, it is important to know how monkeypox is spread and what you can do to protect yourself from infection.
How is monkeypox spread?
Typically, monkeypox is known to spread to people who have come into contact with infected animals. It can be a bite, a scratch or the consumption of raw animal meat.
Monkeypox can also be spread from person to person. Although initially thought to be rare, the unusual rapid rise in infections outside West and Central Africa has raised concerns.
It usually spreads between people in three ways: by inhaling respiratory droplets; directly touch an infected person; and, less often, through indirect contact – such as through clothing or laundry that has come in contact with fluid from wounds.
Respiratory transmission involves large droplets that do not linger in the air or travel far. Therefore, person-to-person spread usually requires prolonged intimate contact.
Monkeypox is also spread through close personal contact, such as skin-to-skin contact or kissing.
The virus is not generally considered a sexually transmitted infection and is not known to be spread through semen during sex.
However, “it can be transmitted through sexual and intimate contact,” Dr. John Brooks, an epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on May 23.
So far, the majority of cases have been sexually spread with a particular concentration among gay and bisexual men. However, anyone can be at risk of catching the virus.
How to protect yourself from monkeypox?
Although health experts agree the risks to the general public are low, there are a number of precautions you can take to reduce your risk of catching monkeypox.
According to the UK National Health Service and the US Centers for Disease Control, the best precautions to take are:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients confirmed or infected with monkeypox virus.
- Eat only well-cooked meat.
- Do not approach wild or stray animals, including dead animals, as well as animals that appear sick.
- Do not eat or touch the meat of wild animals.
- Do not share bedding or towels with people who are sick and may have monkeypox.
- Do not have close contact with people who are sick and may have monkeypox.
- What should you do if you catch monkeypox?
- Early symptoms of monkeypox may consist of headache, muscle aches, swelling, back pain, and fever.
Within one to five days after infection, lesions and rashes usually occur all over the body – on the hands, face, feet, eyes, mouth, and genitals. These eventually turn into raised bumps that blister, some also fill with white fluid before breaking apart and forming scabs. This liquid can be infectious.
If you have these symptoms or think you may have contracted the virus, you should isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek immediate medical attention.
If you have contracted the virus, you will need to self-isolate until you recover.
People who get monkeypox usually recover in two to four weeks. Symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses – such as herpes, syphilis or chickenpox – so it’s important to confirm with a medical professional as soon as possible.