The Louisiana Department of Health on Thursday identified the first case of monkeypox in a Louisiana resident. Here’s what you should know about infectious disease.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox.
Most human cases have been in central and west Africa and outbreaks have been relatively limited.
The illness was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys – thus the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a young boy in a remote part of Congo.
What are the symptoms and how is it treated?
Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized. Monkeypox is rarely fatal, but can be severe for children or those who are immunocompromised, have a history of eczema or who are pregnant.
Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox and anti-viral drugs are also being developed.
The US ordered a total of about 4.4 million vaccines, some of which will be delivered through 2023.
How worrying is the outbreak?
Any outbreak of an emerging virus is concerning, but most of the cases have been mild and there have been no deaths in the US so far. Since the beginning of this year, there have been 73 monkeypox deaths in Africa.
Monkeypox also requires very close contact to spread, so it is not likely to prompt big waves of disease like COVID-19, which can be transmitted in the air by people with no symptoms.
Still, the Louisiana Department of Health said there are likely more undiagnosed human cases of monkeypox existing in Louisiana than have been formally tested and identified to date.
How can people avoid infection?
The CDC says to avoid close contact with the monkeypox rash. Do not touch the rash of a person infected with monkeypox. Avoid sharing utensils or cups, and do not touch the bedding of a sick person.
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after contact with sick people.
A person who is sick with monkeypox should isolate at home, according to the CDC. If they have an active rash or other symptoms, they should be in a separate room or area from other family members and pets whenever possible.
What caused the latest outbreak?
Health officials are still investigating, but early data suggest many cases are in men who have sex with men. However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.
Scientists say it will be difficult to determine whether the spread is being driven by sex or merely by close contact.
Why are most of the current infections outside Africa in men who have sex with men?
It’s unclear, but the disease is no more likely to infect gay and bisexual men than anyone else.
“This may just be unlucky that (monkeypox) happened to get into this one particular community first,” said Dr. Jake Dunning, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Oxford, who is also involved in treating cases in London.
Other experts warn the disease could spread more widely if measures aren’t taken to stop the outbreak.
“Infectious diseases do not care about borders or social networks. Some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, but by no means is the current risk of exposure to monkeypox ”exclusive to men who have sex with men, said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. John Brooks.