Monkeypox: What Millennials Need to Know

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By: Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ

What do you know about Monkeypox?

For many of us, it’s just the name. One that we often found after scrolling through the headlines of our social media news feeds where “Monkeypox” has appeared along with those fairly gross (if we are being honest) pictures of blisters covering a person’s skin.

Although previous outbreaks have been much smaller than the current outbreak, the good news is: your risk of getting Monkeypox is still low.

But we cannot ignore that cases of the virus have managed to spread around the world, and the World Health Organization has declared Monkeypox a public health emergency—“an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

Even more unfortunate, is the fact that useful information on how this virus spreads and who is actually at risk, has not been as widely released or as clearly communicated in the media.

Lindsay Morrison, MD, MSCI, cares for patients at Georgia Infectious Disease in Atlanta, Georgia.

That’s why I collaborated with fellow millennial and infectious disease specialist, Lindsay Morrison, MD, MSCI to learn what communities among our generation are at risk, how this virus actually differs from the COVID-19 virus, and what precautions, if any, we should take as more of us travel this summer.

YMyHealth: What is Monkeypox?

Dr. Morrison: Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease caused by an orthopox virus. It is related to smallpox but much milder. As you might guess from the name of the virus, it was first discovered in monkeys in the 1950s. It was not until the 1970s that the first cases of the disease occurred in humans.

YMyHealth: How are people contracting the virus?

Dr. Morrison:  The virus primarily enters through breaks in the skin, mucous membranes surfaces (eyes, mouth, vagina, anus) or the lining of the respiratory tract.

Person-to-person transmission occurs after direct contact with infected sores on the skin or body fluids, such as large respiratory droplets. Increasingly, sexual fluids are becoming a concern as a potential mode of transmission.

Transmission from infected animals or fomites (material carrying infected fluids, such as clothing or bedding and sex toys) can also spread the infection.

YMyHealth: A lot of media reports have been about how Monkeypox is something to be on alert for in the gay male and bisexual community. Is this something that millennials regardless of their sexual orientation should be aware of and on guard for? If so, why? 

Dr. Morrison:  Right now, the spread of Monkeypox has primarily been between men who have sex with men. Spread outside of the gay community is inevitable; in fact, several cases have been reported in children and women.

Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation you can contract the infection.

YMyHealth: What are some symptoms that millennials should be aware of?

Dr. Morrison:  Symptoms of Monkeypox typically involve:

  • Fatigue
  • Fevers
  • Shaking chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

The most obvious lymph nodes are in the neck, armpits, and around the groin. Monkeypox also causes a characteristic rash. The rash starts as red spots on the body which develop into fluid filled vesicles, like blisters, or pustules, like large pimples. These lesions then develop into open sores and eventually scab over and fall off.

YMyHealth: How does this virus differ from COVID-19?

Dr. Morrison: Monkeypox differs from SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in a few ways.

The incubation period is more variable and can be up to 21 days, although it typically falls into the 7-14-day range. The Monkeypox virus is spread primarily through close contact with skin or infected fluids. Respiratory droplet transmission is possible for both viruses but for Monkeypox transmission requires more prolonged and more proximal (face to face) exposure. Also, because Monkeypox requires close contact for transmission it has less potential to spread rapidly.

YMyHealth: For millennials who are planning to travel either domestically or internationally this summer, what’s your advice when it comes to protecting themselves from Monkeypox?

Dr. Morrison: Case numbers have been on the rise both abroad and within the US. Domestically over 300 cases have been reported. Internationally over 4700 cases have been reported. These reported cases come from 49 countries with the highest density in the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and France.

The risk of contracting Monkeypox is higher with certain activities that involve close skin contact such as massages, close-quartered gatherings that involve a lot of exposed skin or skin contact, or sexual activity. Limiting your exposure to these activities is the best way to reduce your risk. Dental dams and condoms can also reduce risk of transmission but will not eliminate the risk.

Aside from these activities your risk of Monkeypox is still low, including for air travel.

It is rare and unlikely for a public surface to become contaminated with the virus. However, you can take steps to protect yourself by wearing clothing that covers your skin or wiping down high-touch surfaces like arm rests.

Since the overall incidence of Monkeypox is low right now your chance of sitting next to someone on an airplane with an active infection is also low. If you are immune compromised or pregnant, you can consider wearing a mask for air travel. 

At a hotels, linens and towels are typically cleaned between guests so these surfaces are unlikely to harbor the virus. 

For more information on Monkeypox, visit the CDC’s Monkeypox page. It includes images of the rash as well as a map with reported cases by country.

If you think you may have Monkeypox you can find a testing center here.

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