Monkeypox is quietly sweeping the nation. It is the latest virus to travel overseas and into the lives of Americans. This painful virus is contagious and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is rolling out a vaccine for high-risk individuals, including gay and bisexual men. In Memphis, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has ramped up efforts to educate residents about what the virus is, how it spreads and available vaccines.
What Is Monkeypox?
It is a rash located near the genitals — penis, vaginal and anus and even inside a person’s mouth. Initial symptoms look like pimples that may itch or be painful to touch. A person can also experience flu-like symptoms followed by a rash with sometimes painful pus-filled blisters that will eventually scab and fall off.
What Are Memphis Health Professionals Saying?
According to infectious diseases expert Dr. Shirin Mazumder, transmission occurs through close and prolonged contact with an infected person and can be spread through infected lesions, bodily fluid, large respiratory droplets or contaminated materials like clothing and bedding, as reported by WREG Memphis. The incubation period for monkeypox is typically between seven and 14 days, but symptoms can sometimes take up to three weeks to develop. The CDC lists additional ways to contract the virus “through kisses or other sexually intimate contacts, or by touching fabrics or objects touched by someone infected.” It can also be transmitted from a mother to an unborn child.
People with monkeypox are considered infectious from the time symptoms show until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed.
“There are medications for smallpox that are likely to be effective for monkeypox but the majority of cases are just mild and resolve on their own.”Dr. Shirin Mazumder, infectious diseases expert
“Public health efforts should prioritize gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who are currently disproportionately affected, for prevention and testing, while addressing equity, minimizing stigma, and maintaining vigilance for transmission in other populations,” the CDC said in a statement.
Additional analysis shows that all of the patients had a rash. However, a genital rash was more commonly reported in the current outbreak than in the U.S. than in other countries. It was the most common location for rash (46%), followed by arms (40%), face (38%) and legs (37%). More than a third of cases with available data reported rash in four or more regions.
Who Has the Highest Risk of Getting Infected?
According to the CDC, the current risk to the public of contracting monkeypox appears to be low. If you have symptoms of monkeypox (such as rash or lesions like those in the photos above), contact your healthcare provider. This includes persons who:
- Recently traveled to countries where monkeypox cases have been reported and/or
- Had contact with a person who has a similar rash caused by a confirmed or suspected monkeypox infection.
Monkeypox can infect anyone, but the majority of cases in the U.S. outbreak have been among men who have sex with men, including gay and bisexual men and people who identify as transgender. Close contact with an infected individual is required for the spread of the monkeypox virus, experts say.
Where Can I Get Vaccinated?
The CDC initially announced vaccines were being released from the strategic national stockpile and offered to the high-risk contacts of monkeypox patients, as well as the health care workers treating them. Federal health officials have since expanded vaccination efforts to focus on the broader community of men who have sex with men, the demographic that makes up most U.S. cases.
In Memphis, the Shelby County Health Department has received the vaccine and permission to disseminate it under the U.S. Federal Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization. High-risk adult men will be the first to receive the vaccine, which comes in the form of a skin prick, similar to a tuberculosis shot. For the vaccine to be effective, patients must return 28 days later for the second dose. The vaccine is also available for people under the age of 18.
Vaccines are currently limited in Tennessee, and are only given to the following individuals:
- Those who had contact with a known monkeypox patient in the past 14 days.
- Individuals who might have been exposed to the virus in the past 14 days, including
- those aware that a sexual partner was diagnosed with the virus and
- had multiple sexual partners.
- Men who have sex with men in the past 90 days, including those who
- had multiple sex partners or anonymous sex,
- had a sexually transmitted infection, and
- took medications to prevent HIV infection or HIV PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
If you qualify, you may contact the Shelby County Health Department or your respective Tennessee health unit.
I Think I Got Infected. What do I do?
If you are symptomatic, do not engage in any physical contact with another person. Isolate and contact your local health department. Refraining from touching surfaces that others may come into contact with will go a long way in lessening the spread of the monkeypox virus.