Explainer: What you need to know about monkeypox

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Confirmed cases of monkeypox have nearly tripled over the last two weeks in Michigan. While health officers in West Michigan fight off an outbreak of a potentially deadly virus, they are also forced to fight off misinformation.

When the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website to detail the signs and symptoms of monkeypox on July 20, there were 19 known cases in the state. As of Aug. 2, there are 55, including six in Kent County, two in Ottawa County and one case each in Ionia and Montcalm counties.

Alison Clark, the public information officer for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, told News 8 that it was only a matter of time before cases were found in her jurisdiction. Ottawa County’s first two cases were announced Monday.

“We were expecting to have cases in Ottawa County,” Clark told News 8. “Although the case count in Michigan is low, it is increasing, and we expect that there are probably more cases than we know about right now.”

Clark and the OCDPH have seen some of the misinformation circulating on social media and believe it is important to set the record straight — not to scare the public but to keep them properly informed.

“We have all endured two-and-a-half years of talking about COVID-19 and the spread of disease. We don’t want the community to panic,” Clark said. “The risk of monkeypox to the community is low. But we do know that there are people in our community who are at risk for monkeypox, and we want to make sure they have the best information available so they can make (informed) decisions and that this disease doesn’t expand and cause the outbreak to get bigger.”

HOW DOES IT SPREAD?

One of the biggest myths she has seen online is that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection.

“Monkeypox is spread through close personal, physical contact, so it can be spread through sexual activity, kissing or hugging, close contact like that. But it’s not a sexually transmitted infection,” Clark said. “It’s also not a disease only limited to gay or bisexual men or men who have sex with other men. That group of people happens to be bearing the most burden of the disease right now, but anyone can get monkeypox and should be aware of the signs and symptoms in case they come into contact and are exposed to someone with monkeypox.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox spreads through direct contact with a rash, scabs or bodily fluids from an infected person. It can also be transmitted through respiratory secretions –tiny droplets of saliva exhaled while talking or coughing. And finally, the virus can also be spread from one surface to another.

“It is primarily spread through touching the rash of someone who has monkeypox or touching items that have been used by someone with monkeypox. So, bedsheets, clothing towels, even utensils like drinking glasses, forks, plates, things like that. Even sharing drinks and food with someone who has monkeypox. It can spread that way, as well,” Clark said.

The CDC is still investigating how long the monkeypox virus can survive on a foreign surface. At least one test found traces of the virus 15 days after exposure. However, common disinfectants and UV treatments can be used to clean items.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

There are several symptoms associated with the monkeypox virus, but the most notable is a distinct rash that looks like pimples or blisters and can become painful or itchy. According to the CDC, the rash works in stages, usually scabbing over before finally healing. They are most often found near a person’s genitals, but can also appear on a person’s hands, feet, chest or face.

Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue and respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, nasal congestion or a cough.

The monkeypox rash is the most common symptom. Not every person will experience every symptom listed by the CDC and some will only experience the rash.

HOW DANGEROUS IS MONKEYPOX?

The monkeypox virus can be deadly. However, the strain of virus in the current outbreak is weaker than others.

According to the CDC, more than 99% of people infected with the West African strain of monkeypox survive. However, the symptoms can be extremely painful and can leave permanent scarring.

People with weakened immune systems, young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are at a higher risk of severe illness.

The Congo Basin strain of monkeypox—which has not been found in this current outbreak—has a fatality rate around 10%.

HOW LONG IS AN INFECTED PERSON CONTAGIOUS?

Anyone with a monkeypox rash is considered contagious, which typically lasts between two to four weeks. The CDC is still researching whether people can spread the virus without showing any symptoms.

If a person starts to show symptoms, including a rash, that person should isolate from others. If you are caring for someone infected with monkeypox or live in a setting where it’s hard to isolate, the CDC recommends regular handwashing and using personal protective equipment like masks or face shields when appropriate.

People should also routinely clean surfaces or items used by people infected with monkeypox, including laundry, dishes and furniture.

ARE THERE TREATMENTS AVAILABLE?

According to the CDC, there are no treatments to specifically treat monkeypox. However, because the virus is so similar to smallpox, there are antiviral drugs and vaccines that can be effectively used to treat and prevent infections.

While every case is handled differently, antiviral medication can be prescribed to people with a weakened immune system or other risk factors.

Smallpox vaccines are also available. However, because they are in limited supply, they are being reserved for people who have already tested positive or have been exposed to the virus.

“They need to be administered within four days of exposure to have the best chance of preventing illness. The vaccines are in limited supply right now, but manufacturing is ramping up and we hope to have a good supply of vaccine soon,” Clark said.

Clark says the important thing is to be vigilant and to reach out for help if you believe you have been exposed.

“Healthcare providers are the main source of testing at this point. And then, between you and your healthcare provider, you can determine the next step,” Clark told News 8. “And if people don’t have a healthcare provider, they are welcome to call the health department. One of our nurses will talk with them about that and we can refer them to a health care provider if we can’t help them.”

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