What is monkeypox? Everything you need to know about symptoms, spread and more

Based on previous data from Africa, the two available vaccines are believed to be 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox infection. They can also be given up to four days after exposure to monkeypox to prevent infection and up to two weeks after exposure to reduce the severity of symptoms in a sick person.

Other treatments include an antiviral drug called TPOXX, which is approved to treat monkeypox in the European Union but not yet in the US, where it is only approved for smallpox. In order for U.S. doctors to prescribe TPOXX for monkeypox, they had to apply for the drug with the CDC and then fill out the paperwork for each person it’s administered to, meaning prescriptions were small. The CDC says it is working to cut this bureaucracy; Patients and healthcare professionals have criticized the organization for not solving this supply problem quickly enough.

If someone becomes seriously ill, two other treatments — a monoclonal antibody called vaccinia immunoglobulin and an antiviral called cidofovir — can be used, according to the US CDC. But there’s no data yet on how effective either would be.

Can I get vaccinated even if I haven’t been exposed?

Vaccines are not yet available everywhere. However, if you’re at higher risk of contracting monkeypox, you may be eligible for one even if you haven’t definitely been exposed.

The current outbreak is predominantly spreading among men who have sex with men (MSM). In the US, this means that MSM who have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days and live in areas where monkeypox is prevalent are eligible for vaccination, according to the CDC. If you think you are eligible, consult your doctor.

Note that some states have broader eligibility criteria – so check what they are where you are. In North Carolina, for example, MSM who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the past 90 days are eligible, and there are no geographic restrictions. MSM who have taken PrEP in the past 90 days or who have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection are also eligible.

Note, however, that you may have to wait for cans to become available. As of this writing, supply shortages mean that New York City has no bookable vaccination appointments and San Francisco has had to close its drop-in vaccination service.

In the UK, MSM who have multiple partners, engage in group sex, or participate in sex-on-premise venues are prioritized for vaccination. However, if you think you might be eligible, the National Health Service asks you to wait for the invitation to be vaccinated – walk-in services are not available.

Where did monkeypox come from?

While the current outbreak will be the first time many have heard of monkeypox, the virus is thought to have been infecting humans for centuries, possibly even millennia. The first documented cases of monkeypox, a member of the same virus family as chickenpox and smallpox, occurred in 1958 when there were two outbreaks in colonies of laboratory monkeys kept for research—hence the name.

However, this is a little misleading. The virus is usually transmitted by rodents such as squirrels, opossums and dormouse, among others. Past cases have tended to occur near tropical rainforests in central and western Africa, where the virus is endemic. From the 1980s to 2010, cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) increased more than 14-fold, and in 2020 alone there were nearly 4,600 suspected cases of monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 2017 there have also been more than 550 suspected cases in Nigeria. Given these numbers and the interconnectedness of the world through air travel, the current global outbreak is actually not that surprising.

Where can I get reliable information about the disease?

That World Health Organization, US CDCand UK Health Security Agency have been providing regular Twitter updates on the monkeypox outbreak. Global.health — an international collaboration that provides real-time data on infectious diseases — has also developed a monkeypox tracker to monitor confirmed and suspected cases as they arise. These all provide reliable information on the current outbreak.

It is important to avoid stigmatizing those infected. One of the biggest common untruths is that monkeypox only affects men who have sex with men, or that this group is responsible for the outbreak. People of any gender or sexual orientation can get the disease.

Other particularly savage falsehoods include claims that certain Covid-19 vaccines cause monkeypox because they inject chimpanzee genomic information into your cells, that the virus is airborne, that infections are doubling every three days, that monkeypox is so deadly like smallpox and so on it’s a man made virus leaked from a lab – none of it is true.

This story was originally published on May 27, 2022 and has been updated to reflect new information.

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