What is monkeypox?

Jul 29, 2022 | News, Urgent Care

David W. Kimberlin, MD, FAAP

The United States is among several countries where cases of monkeypox infections have been reported. The virus causes a rash that can look like chickenpox (varicella) or molluscum.

The current monkeypox outbreak has been classified a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, with more than 18,000 cases reported in 75 countries. There have been more than 3,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States. At least two cases have been in U.S. children.

How does a person get monkeypox?

Monkeypox got its name after the disease was discovered in colonies of monkeys kept for research in the 1950s. It was first discovered in a person in 1970. 

Anyone can get monkeypox. People can spread monkeypox to other people through direct skin to skin contact with infected body fluids or when sharing bedding, clothing or towels. It can also spread through large respiratory droplets from infected people but is much more difficult to transmit through this route than COVID is.

A person is contagious from the time symptoms develop until after scabs from the rash fall off and the skin has completely healed.

In the current outbreak, monkeypox has spread to people through close physical contact with others. Anyone who has been in close contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has monkeypox can get the illness. Infections also can spread between people and their pets.

Children under age 8 years, pregnant women and some people with immune conditions may be at higher risk of severe disease if they are in close direct contact with an infected person, or come in contact with clothes, bedding, etc., from someone with the rash of monkeypox.

Symptoms of monkeypox 

The telltale sign of monkeypox virus is how the rash looks and how the spots change over time. When the rash first appears, it looks like flat spots. Typically, all the spots change at the same time, becoming raised bumps and then fluid-filled blisters that become pus-filled white/yellow sores. However, in the current outbreak some patients have had skin lesions in differing stages of development and resolution. Before the rash appears, early signs may include: 

  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • cough

If your pediatrician suspects monkeypox, they will take a skin swab and do a lab test. Most people recover in two to four weeks even without medicines that kill the virus causing monkeypox. There are also antiviral treatments. 

The United States has had a few outbreaks of monkeypox in the United States. In 2003, for example, an outbreak occurred in children and adults who had contact with infected animals that were imported from another country. 

Is there a monkeypox vaccine?

Because monkeypox is so rare, there is no need to vaccinate everyone. Two vaccines are available for people age 18 years or older who may have been exposed to someone with monkeypox. The vaccine also may be given to people who work in a laboratory with the virus or provide medical care to infected patients. 

Should my family worry about monkeypox?

Monkeypox sounds scary, but it is very, very unlikely that it will ever cause you any problems. It is much more difficult to transmit or acquire than COVID is. It is always good to be aware of health risks, but this is not one that should occupy much concern for you. 

More information

Article found at HealthyChildren.org

Call Now Button