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Monkeypox: Protect Yourself and Stop the Spread

In light of the increasing cases of monkeypox, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics' Infectious Disease Specialist Edward Leonard, MD, has compiled a guide to help you protect yourself and your family against the virus, identify symptoms and know when to stay home.

What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as smallpox. Symptoms are milder and less likely to be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization.

What are the symptoms?
Monkeypox can cause flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that can appear anywhere on the body. The rash typically occurs after symptoms have already begun. The rash will turn into raised bumps, which fill with fluid and eventually scab over. The rash is mostly present on the face, arms, legs and hands. However, if a person was infected during sexual contact, the rash might appear on the genitals. If a person was infected through anal sex, they may develop anal or rectal irritation.

The incubation period (time from exposure to the start of symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 714 days but can range from 521 days.

How is the monkeypox virus spread?
The monkeypox virus can be transmitted from person to person by:

  • Direct contact with the skin or body fluids of an infected person (including sexual contact).
  • Contact with virus-contaminated objects (such as bedding or clothing).
  • Respiratory droplets during direct and prolonged face-to-face contact.

People with a confirmed case of monkeypox are contagious as soon as they develop symptoms and are contagious until the rash has fully healed. A person with monkeypox should isolate from others during this time.

Humans can also get monkeypox from contact with infected animals.

Who is at risk?
Anyone can get monkeypox but some people are at a higher risk. Unlike the virus that causes COVID-19, monkeypox is primarily spread through close contact and does not spread through the air over longer distances. Brief interactions that do not involve physical contact and healthcare interactions conducted using appropriate protective equipment are generally considered low risk.

While the current cases nationally and internationally mainly involve men who have sex with men, anyone who is sexually active with multiple partners or who are partners with someone who has sex with multiple partners can be at risk for being exposed to monkeypox.

Other risk factors may include travel to areas where monkeypox is spreading; close, non-sexual contact with a known case; or contact with sick animals. To protect yourself and others from monkeypox or sexual infectious diseases, the Washington State Department of Health recommends practicing safe sex methods and avoiding sexual contact with anyone who has open wounds, sores or rashes.

Is monkeypox deadly?
There are two types of monkeypox virus: West African and Congo Basin. Infections with the monkeypox virus identified in the 2022 outbreak are of the West African type and rarely fatal.

People with weakened immune systems, children under 8 years of age, people with a history of eczema, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be more likely to become seriously ill or die. Symptoms can be extremely painful and might cause permanent scarring.

What needs to be done to bring monkeypox under control in Washington state?
Controlling the outbreak is possible. Monkeypox is not COVID-19
it is mostly spread through close, skin-to-skin contact and is far less likely to be spread in the air.

To stop monkeypox in the United States, person-to-person transmission must be stopped and transmission to pets and wildlife prevented. We also need to:

  • Focus on rapid identification of cases.
  • Help those who test positive to isolate for as long as they still have any rashes.
  • Make sure people know they should avoid skin-to-skin and sexual contact while they have a rash.

In Washington state, treatment, case investigation and contact tracing begin as soon as someone gets a test result that identifies them as a probable or confirmed case.

What should I do if I have been exposed to monkeypox?
If you have had close contact with a person who has confirmed or probable monkeypox, promptly contact your healthcare provider or the county health department.

What should I do if I have symptoms of monkeypox?
Isolate yourself from others from the start of symptoms until the rash has fully healed, which could be 2
4 weeks.

How do I get tested?
Public health officials encourage anyone who has symptoms of monkeypox, or anyone who has been in close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox in the last 21 days, to contact a healthcare provider to see if they should be tested. 

Can physicians and other medical providers order a monkeypox test in Washington?
Yes. Here’s how testing currently works in Washington:

  • People who have symptoms of monkeypox (including a rash on one or more parts of the body) should visit a healthcare provider. If the healthcare provider suspects monkeypox, the rash bumps will be swabbed for testing.
  • The swabs will then be sent to a laboratory for testing.
  • If a specimen tests positive, the state or local health department will contact the patient. The public health department will recommend the actions to take and ask if there are people who have been in close contact with the patient.

Is there a shortage of available testing?
Currently, there is no shortage of testing in Washington state.

Is there a vaccine?
To help stop the spread of the monkeypox virus, the CDC announced plans to distribute a limited amount of a vaccine, called JYNNEOS, in the United States
including to Washington state. Because there is a limited supply of this vaccine, Washington has received a very small amount of vaccine so far but expects to receive a larger supply of the vaccine in late August.

For now, if you believe you have had recent close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox and you need a vaccine, please reach out to your healthcare provider.

Stay informed
For more details and the most up-to-date information about monkeypox, please visit the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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