City and state health officials detected the first local case of monkeypox in Kansas City on Saturday. The disease is caused by infection from a virus, but it is not as easily spread as COVID-19.
Monkeypox is not new to the U.S., or even to Kansas City. Diseases like Ebola, swine flu and monkeypox do pop up every few years, according to officials at University Health Truman Medical Center.
There are approximately 113 cases confirmed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“What’s different about monkeypox is that it’s not in a usual geographical location in the world that we typically see this pop up at,” Dr. Sayo Weihs, a pharmacist and infectious disease specialist, said in a press conference on June 16.
As communities continue to reel from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to jump to worst case scenarios, but Dr. Weihs told The Star that the threat of monkeypox is not as severe as some people may think it is.
“Monkey pox is very much not widespread,” she said. “Yes, it is definitely in areas that we usually do not expect, but it’s not very common. So the likelihood that someone is exposed to monkeypox is not as high as I think people are afraid of.”
Here’s what you need to know in order to spot the disease, just in case.
What are the symptoms?
“Most cases of monkeypox, fortunately, are not severe,” Dr. Weihs told the Star.
The rash is the most visible symptom that people associate with monkeypox, but before seeing rashes, people might experience flu-like symptoms, fevers, weakness in the body, headaches or a raised lump in the lymph nodes in your neck or armpits. Those symptoms can last around one to three days before seeing skin lesions like rashes.
The rashes will look like pimples or blisters and can show up anywhere from the face, inside the mouth or on other parts of the body, Dr. Weihs said.
What are the risks of catching monkeypox?
Although there is a lot of buzz surrounding monkeypox, the risk of being infected is not as high as it is with COVID-19. There needs to be around three hours of exposure in order to contract monkeypox, according to Dr. Weihs.
How does it spread?
Monkeypox mainly spreads through skin to skin contact, especially if there is contact with a scab or an active skin lesion. People can also get the virus through sexual contact and bodily fluids.
Monkeypox can also be airborne, meaning if someone coughs on you, you can contract the illness. But unlike COVID-19, there typically needs to be three or more hours of exposure before a person gets infected. The virus might not cause symptoms for around seven to 14 days after exposure. However, it can take up to 21 days, according to Dr. Weihs.
The virus can also be spread through things in the house that are touched often, according to Weihs. The CDC recommends using EPA approved disinfectants when cleaning to remove any virus from objects in the house.
What do I do if I’m exposed to the virus?
If you are exposed or suspect you have been infected by the monkeypox virus, isolate yourself from others and make sure to call your healthcare provider right away.
From there your doctor can diagnose you and recommend treatment that can prevent severe disease.
“What’s most important is case recognition,” Dr. Weihs said. “Meaning that we know who has the disease. That really reduces the spread of the disease.”
What treatments are out there?
One treatment currently being used to defend against monkeypox is smallpox vaccines. Healthcare providers can use smallpox vaccines like the brand Jynneos after exposure to prevent or reduce the symptoms of monkeypox.
This post-exposure vaccine should be administered within four days of the day the person was exposed. The earlier the vaccine is given, the more it may reduce the symptoms of monkeypox.
The smallpox vaccine is no longer administered regularly since the virus has been eradicated around the world, so it is not recommended to the general public to prevent monkeypox before being exposed.
There is an exception for people who work in the healthcare field or in laboratories that handle viruses.
If you have more questions about monkeypox, email email@example.com.
The Star’s Lisa Gutierrez contributed reporting.