What to do if you get Monkeypox: Symptoms, vaccinations, and treatments

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Over the last few months, monkeypox has spread across the world, prompting government health agencies and hospitals to respond as thee world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease in the same virus family as smallpox and can be transmitted to humans and animals. The disease was first discovered in 1958 when two African colony monkeys began to develop pox-like symptoms. Despite its namesake, the exact source of this disease is not known, and various non-human primates may infect people with the virus. 

The virus is typically found in tropical environments in central and West Africa where the animals who carry the disease live. The 2022 global outbreak has been linked to the resurgence of international travel to countries where the disease is present. 

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What are the symptoms?

Monkeypox symptoms in humans include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a blister rash that typically dries out the skin, according to the World Health Organization. Individuals may experience mild symptoms but the ability to carry the virus without symptoms is not known at this time. These symptoms typically last between 2 and 4 weeks from the initial exposure. 

A Monkeypox lesion on a woman’s hand. 
(CDC/Getty Images)

The WHO notes that signs of a rash usually start within 24 to 72 hours after the start of the fever and lesions may have filled with clear or yellowish fluid. The rash typically is concentrated on the face, palms, and soles of the feet but may also spread to the genitals, eyes, and mouth. 

Does a vaccine exist for Monkeypox?

Several vaccines used to treat smallpox add protection against monkeypox and those who have been vaccinated against smallpox may have some protection as well, according to the WHO. Imvanaex is a vaccine developed for smallpox and was approved in 2019 to help prevent monkeypox, but the drug is not accessible to most of the public. 

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The WHO notes that the vaccines used to treat smallpox in 1980 are not available because it became the first disease to be fully eradicated. Health agencies are working to make newer smallpox vaccines more widely available to the public. 

What are the treatments?

Most symptoms of monkeypox typically resolve by themselves without the need for extensive treatment or medical care. However, the WHO and CDC recommend you avoid scratching or touching sores on the mouth or eyes. 

In severe cases, the WHO recommends the use of vaccinia immune globulin (VIG), an antiviral made to treat smallpox that was approved for the treatment of monkeypox back in January. Patients should also stay hydrated and eat food to maintain their nutritional status. 

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Monkeypox cases may be more severe in children, pregnant or individuals who have compromised immune systems.

How many cases?

Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, confirmed cases of Monkeypox across the world total to 26,208 confirmed cases in 87 different countries as of August 4, according to data compiled by the CDC. Moreover, the number of cases in the US stands at 6,617 cases in more than 48 states.

Recently, California, New York, and Illinois, along with several other large municipalities, have all declared states of emergency over monkeypox. The Biden administration in early August responded by creating a response team led by Robert Fenton, a regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis as the deputy coordinator. 

“Fenton and Deaskalakis will lead the administration’s strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments,” the White House said in a statement.

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However, other states have not issued states of emergency despite rising cases. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized Democratic governors from the three states who have declared emergencies over Monkeypox, claiming his government is “not doing fear.”

DeSantis claimed state leaders would use the viral outbreak to “restrict your freedom,” adding, “we saw it so much with COVID.”