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Should You Worry About Monkeypox?

We’ve heard a lot on the news lately about monkeypox, a rare virus originally discovered in the 1950’s in research monkeys that was not noted in humans until the 1970’s. This virus belongs to the same viral genus as smallpox and can cause a similar rash. Until recently, this virus was limited to Central and Western Africa, but cases are now popping up around the world. As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox were under investigation in 12 countries, the World Health Organization said in a news release. Most are in Europe.

Previously, transmission was thought to be from animals, most commonly rodents and primates, to humans. However, a recent case found here in Massachusetts occurred in an individual who had traveled only to Canada and within the United States, and with no clear source of transmission, leading researchers to speculate that there may be the possibility of community spread.

The first U.S. case occurred in 2003 in an individual who came in contact with an infected prairie dog; this led to an additional 70 cases. There have also been a few small clusters in Europe and North America.

The exposure and transmission mechanisms are not fully understood yet, but a common link among those that have contracted monkeypox in areas that do not typically have cases of the disease is men who have sex with men. Transmission may also occur through close personal contact with respiratory droplets after prolonged face-to-face contact and contact with lesions, however this is still being researched.

Symptoms are similar to but less severe than smallpox and include fever, lethargy, chills, rash and swollen lymph nodes. The disease lasts about two to four weeks. Because of its relationship to the smallpox virus, similar treatment methods are used, including antivirals and the smallpox vaccine. 

While surveillance is underway and researchers are working to understand the virus and its modes of transmission, it’s important to remember that the CDC is currently monitoring just six people in the entire country. 

Nicole Burgett-Yandow, NP has a Masters Degree in Nursing with over 19 years of health care experience. Currently, she practices at Winchester Hospital Center for Weight Management as well as providing after hours on call coverage for patients within the Atrius system. She has worked in a variety of settings including primary care and infectious disease. She has been a Tewksbury resident since 2009 and has two kids in the Tewksbury Public Schools.

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