WASHINGTON, DC, June 6 — Just when you thought it was safe to take off your mask and mingle with friends and family, along comes a new threat to your health with the odd, not-so-scary name-monkeypox. To be sure, any contagious disease poses a threat, but will monkeypox usher in a new cycle of COVID-like self-isolation and other precautionary measures?
Worldwide, cases of monkeypox are increasing. More than 700 cases have been identified — including 21 in the U.S. Those numbers are expected to increase in the coming weeks and months, but the Centers for Disease Control point out that it’s not an unknown, new disease. The CDC says it has been preparing for monkeypox “for decades,” and “we have the resources we need right now to respond, and we know how to respond.”
Virologist Paula Cannon at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine echoed that sentiment. She told the LA Times that the monkeypox outbreak is no cause “to get crazy scared…If we have good public health surveillance systems in place, these things can be monitored, then we can nip things in the bud and stop things spreading.”
The fact is that monkeypox is not some new, unknown disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control [CDC], it’s been with us for decades. “Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then, monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.”
The World Health Organization [W.H.O.] reports that “monkeypox is usually self-limiting but may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women, or persons with immune suppression due to other health conditions.” The W.H.O. also points out that there are two types of monkeypox with a fatality rate as high as 10.6% of those infected but that the current outbreak is a less severe version of the disease with a fatality rate of one percent to 3.6 percent.
The first case of the disease outside of Africa, this time around, was reported in the UK on May 7.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization [W.H.O.] points out, “Some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone with close [skin-t0-skin] contact with someone who is infectious is at risk. However, given that the virus is being identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will help ensure that as few people as possible are affected and that the outbreak can be stopped.”
The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] says the disease’s symptoms are similar to but milder than smallpox. Those symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, a rash similar to the rash produced by chickenpox, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and chills.
There are two authorized vaccines available and stockpiled in the U.S., ACAM2000 and Jynneos. The FDA approved the Jynneos vaccine in 2019. Assistant Secretary Dawn O’Connell, at the Department of Health and Human Services, says there is “more than enough vaccine available” to deal with the outbreak in the U.S.
According to a comprehensive report published by the University of California- San Francisco, a major difference between the COVID virus and the monkeypox virus is that COVID is an RNA [Ribonucleic acid] virus and monkeypox is a DNA [Deoxyribonucleic] acid. RNA “viruses tend to mutate much quicker than DNA viruses, such as monkeypox,” and they are more virulent and much more difficult to treat.
That report also notes that “Monkeypox can occasionally be deadly, especially in poor places with inadequate healthcare, and [that it] is closely related to smallpox…the biggest difference is that Monkeypox is much less disfiguring and deadly than smallpox, and in particular, the Western African strain of monkeypox which is circulating now is less pathogenic than the strain found in Central Africa.”
In fact, the W.H.O. has pointed out that there have been no monkeypox-related deaths in any non-African nations, including the United States. And Sylvie Briand, W.H.O. director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the U.N. “that if we put in place the right measures now, we probably can contain this easily.”