Find us @

Feature

Monkeypox continues to spread

The rise of a new virus.

Published

on

The disease, which was previously only seen in Africa, has now spread across the United States and across the globe.

The disease, which was previously only seen in Africa, is now sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world. Everything you need to know is listed below.

A definition for monkeypox would be helpful.

The virus that causes monkeypox is a milder relative of smallpox, and it was first identified by Danish scientists in 1958. While it was initially identified in captive monkeys, rodents are now believed to be the disease’s primary vector. In 1970, a 9-month-old boy in Congo became the first human to be diagnosed with the disease. The disease is spread from infected animals to humans, and since then, it has mainly been confined to West and Central Africa. There have been sporadic cases outside of Africa, with about 70 reported in the United States in 2003 among people who contracted the disease from prairie dogs that had been housed with African animals. Nonetheless, this epidemic has never happened before.

The occurrence of so many cases begs the question: why?

Human to human transmission has begun, primarily through males having sexual contact with other males. Since May, when the first cases were reported, the epidemic has rapidly spread. As of August 16th, the CDC reported a global total of about 35,000 confirmed cases, including 12,689 in the United States. This represents a 34% increase over the previous week. Researchers believe that those figures only scratch the surface of the true case counts. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared a global emergency due to the outbreak of monkeypox; two weeks later, the United States did the same.

It affects people in what ways specifically?

Those infected often experience flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headaches, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. The next step is a painful rash that ultimately turns into pustules filled with fluid and eventually scabs over. Although it may take up to three weeks, symptoms typically begin between six and thirteen days after exposure. From the onset of symptoms until the scabs have fallen off, patients pose a significant infection risk (sometimes leaving scars). In the United States, there have been zero fatalities, and most people get better without medical help. However, the distress can be so severe that 10% of patients in one study required hospitalization. Kevin Kwong, a man from California who was hospitalized with over 600 lesions, described the experience thusly: “It was like someone taking a hole puncher all over my body.”

There must be a reason why it’s spreading now.

The ease with which monkeypox can be transmitted from person to person has led some virologists to speculate that the virus may have undergone small mutations. A recent study found that 98% of cases involved gay or bisexual men and that the virus spread primarily through intimate, skin-to-skin contact and possibly through genital fluids. Scientists are quick to point out that it is not nearly as infectious as Covid, which spreads easily through the air, but it can spread through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, or through shared bedding or towels with an infected person. Los Angeles infectious disease expert Jay Gladstein said, “What we’re not seeing is casual spread.” “Very close contact” is required.

How have people reacted?

Some researchers have claimed that federal health officials were too slow to respond when the first cases emerged outside of Africa in early May. According to Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, “alarm bells” should have been sounded due to the disease’s rapid spread throughout the community. It was at that point that officials should have started stockpiling vaccines and increasing the capacity for conducting tests. As a result, early testing was restricted, with results sent to the CDC for verification; it wasn’t until late June that the government increased capacity by sending tests to commercial labs, greatly increasing turnaround times. The government has been slow to release doses and place orders for more of an effective vaccine, Jynneos, which was developed for smallpox. Millions of doses have been ordered, but men in some cities are waiting hours just to get a few shots, so the FDA has given doctors permission to divide up the doses. Contact tracing and doctor awareness campaigns have been criticized for allegedly falling short in the face of the spread of monkeypox. Critics also claim that the public health message has not adequately warned gay and bisexual men that they are at the greatest risk of infection. Here’s a box with more information:

What are the chances of stopping it?

That has yet to be determined, but many specialists believe it is already too late to stop the epidemic. They believe that monkeypox will become “entrenched” in the population; it may not spread as widely as Covid has, but it could still cause significant problems for people. In the United States, at least five kids and one pregnant woman have contracted the virus from male carriers. The possibility of the virus establishing itself in domestic animals and then spreading to humans is a major cause for alarm. Experts agree that a rapid, widespread response is necessary to combat the virus, and they point to measures such as enhanced contact tracing, improved outreach campaigns, and increased funding for sexual health clinics. According to Tyler TerMeer of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “there is an imminent window of time by which we can get ahead” of the spread. That opportunity is closing fast, and it’s not opening up again.

AIDS’s looming presence

To what extent is it appropriate to refer to monkeypox as a primarily sexually transmitted disease? Exactly where we should focus our education and warning efforts is a contentious issue. The virus that causes monkeypox can spread through direct skin contact with an infected individual. Some government health experts feel it’s crucial to stress that point and avoid calling monkeypox a “gay disease.” Stella Safo, the founder of Just Equity for Health, said that some people may feel immune to health disparities because they are not gay men. Others, however, argue that public health officials are being too cautious in highlighting the fact that gay men make up the vast majority of those infected. Will Nutland, who established two British health groups for gay and bisexual men, put it this way: “Pretending that’s not the case doesn’t help any of us.” The early years of the AIDS crisis, when the disease was called a “gay plague,” left a lasting stigma. According to Perry Halkitis of the Rutgers School of Public Health, figuring out how to talk about and effectively combat this new disease is “a fine line that many people are walking right now.”

It was in the most recent issue of The Week that this article made its debut. Here you can try out the magazine for free for a whole six issues if you like what you read and want to read more like it.