University of Michigan expert: What you should know about monkeypox

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. Health authorities in Africa said Thursday, June 30, 2022 they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world's limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File) (Uncredited, CDC)

ANN ARBOR – As cases of monkeypox continue to rise in Europe and the United States, public health and infectious disease experts have raised concern about the spread.

The virus, which is a member of the orthopox virus family, is rarely seen outside of Africa and is related to smallpox virus.

Sandro Cinti is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan.

The university recently released this Q&A with Cinti, in which he answers common questions about the disease and shares what people can do to protect themselves.

How does monkeypox spread?

Cinti: Monkeypox does not spread like flu or COVID, it spreads via close personal contact, including during sexual encounters. At the moment, it’s been spreading mostly among men who have sex with men, but it can also be transmitted among family members who are in close contact, though not very efficiently.

This is not an extremely transmissible disease; nowhere near the level of COVID or influenza. Contact usually requires more than three hours of exposure within six feet and usually direct contact with lesions rather than respiratory droplets. It can also spread via contaminated linen and clothing.

The World Health Organization is currently saying this does not constitute a global public health emergency and has not widely spread within the community. If there begin to be more cases spreading in a way that is different, including droplet transmission, I think the WHO might revisit it as an emergency.

How would you recognize if you had monkeypox?

Cinti: The lesions are not subtle and are bigger than chickenpox. They can be on the face, hands and the trunk (abdomen). For the first time, we are seeing them sexually transmitted and so lesions can be on the genital or peri-anal area also. People who have these lesions should avoid sexual contact.

People can also experience fevers, chills and lymph node swelling. Sometimes that occurs before the rash appears. However, in this outbreak, those symptoms have been less frequent.

Some clinicians may not recognize the lesions, which can sometimes look like a pimple, skin ulcer or papule, sometimes with a divot in the center. Any unusual skin lesions should be investigated.

How widespread is this current outbreak?

Cinti: This outbreak is so far relatively small at more than 7,594 cases worldwide and more than 700 cases in the U.S. It is notable because it is transmitting outside of West Africa where it is endemic and is spreading among people in other countries in people with no contact with West Africa.

What is the best way to protect yourself from monkeypox?

Cinti: Have protected sexual contact and avoid touching someone with skin lesions. If someone has been infected, they should contact their public health department to determine how to reduce the risk of transmission.

A person with a monkeypox infection should wear a mask and avoid close contact with others until the skin lesions are completely healed, which can take up to two weeks. It is a long course for people who get infected. I do want to stress that the risk to the public is very low. Most of the cases have been transmitted through sexual contact.

If you have been exposed to monkeypox (a close family member or sexual partner) please contact your physician or public health.

Are there any treatments for monkeypox?

Cinti: There are antiviral therapies for people with severe cases. Monkeypox will resolve without any treatment. Very few people have been hospitalized and no one has died, which is good news, and there is a vaccine available, but most people won’t qualify for it.

However, if someone has had a significant exposure there is a possibility of receiving the vaccine to prevent illness. Having said that, the general population does not need vaccination

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.