On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the monkeypox virus has made its presence known in the U.S., stealing headlines, veering into politics and creating plenty of watercooler fodder.
But health officials are quick to point out this smallpox-related virus is not even in the same league as SARS-CoV-2, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 1,900 cases in the U.S., predominantly in coastal states and Illinois. Kansas reported its first case earlier this month.
Monkeypox is a rare viral zoonosis with symptoms similar to that of smallpox, health officials said. The World Health Organization noted that with the eradication of smallpox in 1980 and subsequent cessation of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has emerged as the most important orthopoxvirus for public health.
But it doesn’t transmit from person to person as readily as COVID-19, and because it is related to the smallpox virus, there are already treatments and vaccines in place for mitigating its spread, though these treatments can be difficult to obtain. Infectious disease experts say physicians and their patients should be alert, but not panicked.
“It’s like community-acquired MRSA – it’s spread from person to person by contact,” said Wichita infectious disease physician Thomas Moore, MD. “It doesn’t have a high mortality rate. I think the likelihood of an encounter is exceptionally low, but, as with all these outbreaks, vigilance is important.”
Some ways monkeypox is spread include sexual contact and contact with body fluids, direct contact with a sore or a scab, or contact with clothing, bedding, towels and similar items that have been used by someone with monkeypox, health officials said.
Because incidence is so low in Kansas, a case of monkeypox may not be immediately recognized. Physicians should generally be on the lookout for signs and symptoms that a patient may have it. Those include the obvious – pock-like lesions or a new rash – and the less obvious, such as travel from Africa, sexual relations or close contact with people who have lesions, and flu-like symptoms.
“Physicians should know what the rash looks like and how to distinguish it from other rashes,” said Garold Minns, MD, Sedgwick County public health officer. “If they see a patient with such a rash, they need to know who to consult with to make a definitive diagnosis and what to tell the patient so they don’t spread it to others.”