What you need to know about monkeypox

An international monkeypox outbreak, which began in May 2022, has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency.

According to health officials, more than 97% of patients who have tested positive for monkeypox since the onset of the outbreak identify as gay or bisexual, or as men who have sex with men. However, health experts have warned that anyone — regardless of gender or sexual orientation — can develop and spread the disease.

To help offer guidance on monkeypox, Yahoo News spoke with Luis Ostrosky-Zeichner, chief of infectious diseases division at the McGovern School of Medicine at the University of Texas.

Video Transcript

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations.

For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

LUIS OSTROSKY: Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as smallpox. Traditionally, it transmits from small animals to humans in highly endemic areas, primarily in Africa. And we've been used to having very small outbreaks, primarily in Africa, where there's transmission to a human, a human transmits to a couple more people.

This time around, it's different, because now we have an outbreak where the mode of transmission is primarily through sexual contact, primarily currently transmitting within the community of men who have sex with men, through direct contact, with the lesions or with bodily secretions. And it is starting to reach the level of what we would call a public health emergency or pandemic, because we have sustained transmission within multiple countries in the world.

The concerning part, initially, at least, for us in the US, all of the cases were imported. They had a travel history to Europe, where this outbreak started. But now we have local transmission. We're having transmission in multiple cities in the US.

Mode of transmission for monkeypox is through contact with lesions or bodily secretions. That's perhaps the most efficient way to get it. There is transmission through droplets or aerosols. But that really requires very prolonged contact in close quarters-- so we're talking about 6 to 8 hours in a closed room with somebody to get it that way.

It is currently being transmitted sexually, but it's not a sexually transmitted infection in the sense of what we sexually transmitted infections. So normally, STIs we think of syphilis, gonorrhea, things like that-- that exclusively transmit in the sexual way.

It is estimated that about 90% of people are just going to have the lesions without any complications. They are really painful. When we talk to patients, they have excruciating pain. And we do need to do some heavy pain control with them.

So it's not a walk in the park when you have the lesions. And about 10% of people, primarily people who are immunocompromised, can get severe presentations. And for this 10% of people that will have a severe presentation, we have therapeutic options.

The lesions are highly infectious, and people can transmit the virus while they have the lesions. Most people resolve them within two to three weeks. And basically, you're considered infectious until all the lesions have crusted and all the crusts have fallen off.

We strongly recommend people who have it to stay at home, isolate from others, and, obviously, not to be out in the community. Again, because this is primarily being transmitted through a network of men who have sex with men, obviously, refrain from having sex while we have lesions. And so testing is a big item for prevention.

Testing is key to identifying, and identifying is key to isolating, which breaks the transmission chain. As far as vaccines, there is a very limited amount of vaccines in the United States. They're being distributed to the states according to the number of population at-risk and the number of cases as well.

And at this point, we don't have nearly enough. So health departments are prioritizing high risk populations and high risk behaviors. So if you're a man who have sex with men and you've had multiple partners in the past month, you're eligible. Otherwise, they're not really vaccinating the general population or people at lower risk.

ASHISH JHA: To date, we have distributed more than 300,000 vaccines to jurisdictions around the country. FDA is working quickly to finalize the approval of nearly 800,000 additional doses. And we are getting ready to ship these doses to jurisdictions once FDA has finally approved them.

LUIS OSTROSKY: I've been telling people we need to remain calm right now. You're not going to go to the grocery store and get it from touching produce or anything like that. But we are at a very crucial point where we need to contain it and eradicate it within this current group of transmission before it makes the jump into household transmission, office transmission, and community transmission, right? So no cause for alarm right now, but we do have a small window of opportunity to sort of quash it.