How to prevent monkeypox, according to a doctor

EITHEROn July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox, a zoonotic viral disease, a public health emergency of international concern. In the days after this announcement, San Francisco, New York City, and the state of Illinois made similar statements about monkeypox as cases rose rapidly in those areas. To date, there are 5,811 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US, and the disease affects people in nearly every state.

These decisions come after cases of monkeypox began spreading rapidly around the world earlier this year. Previously, the virus, a relative of smallpox, had been endemic in certain countries in West and Central Africa. (It was initially discovered by laboratory researchers in Denmark in 1958.) The disease can be contracted by anyone of any age, gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity, says Michelle Forcier, MD, MPH, a staff physician at LGBTQ+ telehealth startup FOLX, and a professor of pediatrics and assistant dean of admissions at Brown University Alpert School of Medicine. (That said, the vast majority of reported cases are among men who have sex with men, according to WHO data.)

Many misconceptions and myths about monkeypox have swirled as the outbreak continues to grow in size. For example, people mistakenly assume that because the majority of currently reported cases are among men who have sex with men, the disease is sexually transmitted, even though that’s not the case, says David C. Harvey, executive director of the National STD Coalition. Directors.

So what is the truth about monkeypox and how does it spread, and how can you protect yourself from it? Experts are still learning about this particular variant of the virus, so information may evolve in the coming weeks and months. But here’s what we now know about how to prevent monkeypox and keep it from spreading in your circles.

How is monkeypox spread and what does it look like?

There are a few ways that monkeypox can spread from person to person, some of which scientists are still discovering. But overall, “monkeypox spreads predominantly between humans through direct skin-to-skin contact, such as people living together in the same household, sharing a room, hugging or having sex,” he says. Dr Forcier. The disease can cause a rash or scabs, and touching these can allow the virus to spread. Hugs, kisses, massages, and extended face-to-face time count as close contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pregnant people infected with monkeypox can transmit it to their fetuses or babies through skin-to-skin contact after delivery.

The virus can also be spread through fomites, also known as bedding, bath towels, and clothing worn by a person infected with monkeypox. The same goes for eating utensils used by a person with monkeypox, as the virus can be spread through saliva. As a zoonotic disease, meaning it is transmitted from animals to humans, the monkeypox virus can also spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal, according to the WHO.

There are still some unknowns about how monkeypox is transmitted, particularly this new strain, which is spreading faster and more widely than previous iterations of the virus. For example, while experts say a person is infectious at the onset of symptoms, scientists don’t currently know whether asymptomatic people can spread it. It’s also unclear if it can be spread through semen or vaginal fluids, according to the CDC and WHO.

As for how monkeypox manifests, this virus exhibits a variety of symptoms that differ between individuals. According to the CDC, monkeypox can cause a fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and a painful, blistering rash on the genitals, hands, feet, face, or chest. In more severe cases, a person may get rashes or lesions around or in the eyes. But symptoms can take a long time to appear after infection. “The incubation period for monkeypox infection is typically five to 13 days, but can range from four to 21 days,” says Dr. Forcier. It can also take a while to recover, she says. four weeks after original exposure: the rash crusts over and the scabs fall off. This part usually occurs seven to 14 days after the rash begins.”

How to protect yourself and others from monkeypox

The monkeypox virus is spreading rapidly in the US, yet federal and state efforts to contain it remain slow. (Just today, two officials from the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were appointed to lead a response to the virus.) As such, sadly, people are still on their own when it comes to protecting themselves from the disease. And again, we’re still finding out if it can spread through additional means, which will influence mitigation strategies. But here’s what is known about how to prevent monkeypox and keep it from spreading.

1. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes or mouth.

This shouldn’t surprise us given the last two years or so of dealing with COVID-19. Since monkeypox is spread through close skin contact (you know, touch!) with an infected person, wash your hands often with soap and water before and after eating, before touching your face and then each time to use the bathroom. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also work in a pinch.

2. Avoid people currently infected with monkeypox

Maintaining physical distance and avoiding contact with people who are exposed to or known to have monkeypox appear to help reduce the risk of contracting the virus, says Dr. Forcier. If someone in your household gets monkeypox, they should self-isolate, wear a mask and wear clothing that covers their rash, she says. If you have to be around them, for example bringing them food or washing bedding, the UN recommends wearing a mask and gloves (and disposing of them after each use). Clean and disinfect your living area and items you have used with warm water and detergent.

3. Be aware of the potential risk of certain public and private gatherings

The CDC recommends considering how much close and personal contact you will have at certain events. Festivals and concerts where people are fully clothed, for example, are probably safer from a monkeypox point of view than going to a party or club where people wear fewer clothes and/or are pressed against each other. the other for long periods of time.

4. Isolate yourself if you start to have symptoms

If you think you have been exposed to monkeypox, for example, you were at a party and then you find out that a person you dated had monkeypox, you should monitor for symptoms for 21 days after that exposure. He can go about his daily activities, but if symptoms develop (such as an unexplained rash), he should immediately self-isolate and contact the health department for further guidance, says Dr. Forcier.

5. Consult with your sexual partner(s)

“If you are someone in a social group who is seeing an increase in monkeypox infection and activity, check with your sexual partners about exposure or symptoms,” says Dr. Forcier. He remembers, although monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, it can be transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact…which, you know, is a hallmark of sex. “If there is an exposure or symptoms, delaying sex for the time being not only stops the spread of monkeypox, but helps prevent being infected as well,” she says. The same goes for the question about other infectious symptoms, be it monkeypox, COVID-19, or the common cold. And if you or your partner gets monkeypox, the WHO recommends that you use condoms consistently during any sexual activity for 12 weeks after you recover.

6. Get vaccinated against the disease if you are eligible and in a range area

There are two vaccines that can be used to prevent monkeypox. The CDC recommends that people who are at higher risk of getting monkeypox (including public health workers and close contacts of someone with monkeypox) get vaccinated. Currently, Dr. Forcier says the vaccine is being distributed locally in places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but broader vaccination plans have yet to be identified or submitted by the CDC. Contact your local health department for information about the vaccine and who is specifically eligible in your state or city.

7. Talk about it with your personal networks

Making sure the community and social groups know about monkeypox can also help reduce its spread. While local health departments are responsible for these educational efforts, you can help by talking to friends, posting information posters in public places like the library, gym, and bars or clubs, or sharing accurate information on social media.

Efforts to decrease stigma or shame around any type of illness and infection are important so people can show an interest in learning more, ask important questions and get early care if they need it, adds Dr. Forcier. “Viruses don’t care who you are, what you do, who you love. Viruses tend to be opportunistic and spread where and when they can,” says Dr. Forcier, and monkeypox is no exception. The best way to prevent MPX is to have open and honest communication with those close to you Ask questions, check the health of family members or sexual partners, and if there is exposure or risk of infection by any virus, then act in ways that reduce your own risk and the risk of spreading it to others.

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