Monkeypox cases continue to climb exponentially in the U.S., with nearly 9,000 cases detected so far, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While cases have largely been in men who have sex with men, there have been confirmed reports of children being infected with the disease.
Recently, health officials in Illinois announced that a day care worker in Rantoul, Ill., was diagnosed with monkeypox and potentially exposed several children to the disease.
According to a press release issued by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), health officials are "working closely" on the case. "There are no other cases at this time but a complete assessment is being conducted of all adults and children at the facility," the release states. "If a child that’s enrolled and has had a potential exposure, the parent or guardian will be contacted by CUPHD."
The release also says that there is "no indication" that there is a risk of "extensive local spread of the virus," noting that "monkeypox does not spread as easily as the COVID-19 virus."
Illinois state health director Sameer Vohra later shared in a press briefing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing the monkeypox vaccine to be given to people under the age of 18 who have been exposed to the virus, including children who were exposed at the day care. (The vaccine, called Jynneos, is currently only approved by the FDA for use in people ages 18 and up.)
If you have young kids or children in day care, it's understandable to be nervous about what the latest news means for your child — and how to keep them safe. Here's what doctors have to say about it.
First, a brief recap on monkeypox and how it spreads.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus, according to the CDC. It can cause symptoms such as a fever, headache and muscle aches. Within a few days after symptoms start, an infected person can develop a rash that goes through different stages, per the CDC:
Macules (flat and discolored bumps)
Papules (raised area of skin)
Pustules (small bumps that contain pus)
Scabs (dry, crusty bumps)
People usually get monkeypox after they come into contact with the virus from an animal, person or materials contaminated with the virus, per the CDC. The virus can then enter the body through broken skin or the eyes, nose or mouth. It’s also possible to get monkeypox from having direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids or lesions from infected people and from respiratory secretions.
Monkeypox has been spread through fomites, too — objects, surfaces or materials that can carry infectious particles — and the CDC notes that the virus can live on bedsheets for up to 15 days.
How worried should parents be about monkeypox in day care?
Despite the potential for skin-to-skin contact and fomites at day care centers, experts aren't overly worried at the moment. "There is no need for panic," Dr. Ian Michelow, division head of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "I don't see it as a concern in day cares as of this moment."
Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, agrees. "The level of concern should be low, but not zero," he says. Russo explains things this way: In order for someone with monkeypox to spread the virus to others through direct contact, they would typically need to either have their lesions touch another person's skin or touch or scratch their lesions and then touch another person without washing their hands first. If their lesions are covered, this is less likely to happen, Michelow says.
"At the end of the day, hand hygiene gets it done," Russo says.
Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., also tells Yahoo Life that parents should not panic over monkeypox. "It shouldn't lead to any hysteria," he says.
How to protect children in day care from monkeypox
Children under the age of eight — an age group that would typically be in day care — are at a higher risk of severe complications from monkeypox, the CDC says.
If you live in an area with a growing number of monkeypox cases, Ganjian says you may want to consider checking in with your child's day care to see what precautions they have in place for the just-in-case. "You can ask if they have precautions that anyone with a new rash has to be seen by a doctor before they come into work or that anyone who changes diapers wear gloves," Ganjian says. It also doesn't hurt to make sure your child's day care is properly sanitizing toys at the end of each day.
But, again, experts say parents shouldn't be overly worried about this. "Presently, it's not grounds for panic," Russo says. "But the situation requires close monitoring. The hope is that, with people becoming educated about monkeypox, we'll be able to get on top of this."
Ganjian also recommends keeping this in mind: "Day cares are usually good at not causing outbreaks." He adds, "I don't expect that monkeypox will cause mass outbreaks in day cares."
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