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Q&A: Monkeypox

Monkeypox is a rare infection which can be caught through close physical contact with infected animals or people.

What is monkeypox, and why is it in the news now?

Monkeypox is a rare infection which can be caught through close physical contact with infected animals or people. 

Numerous cases have been detected around the world in recent weeks, which is uncommon and so some scientists are worried about it. However, monkeypox is not typically considered to be very contagious because it requires close physical contact with someone who is infectious to spread between people – therefore the risk to the general public is low.

Who can get monkeypox?

Anyone can be affected by monkeypox, regardless of who they are, what they do, who they choose to have sex with or any other personal characteristic. Some of the recent reporting on monkeypox suggests that certain demographics are more likely to be infected than others. This reinforces homophobic and racist stereotypes, as well as exacerbating stigma. Some reporting also suggests monkeypox is a sexually-transmitted infection, which it is not – it is spread through close physical contact.   

This type of reporting risks undermining efforts to treat people who are infected, and it is unacceptable. Reporting on this and any other public health issue must be handled accurately, responsibly, and compassionately in order to ensure the best health outcomes for all societies globally.   

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high temperature, headaches, muscle aches, swollen glands, shivering, and exhaustion. A bumpy rash usually appears 1 to 5 days after the initial symptoms, beginning on the face, and then spreading to other parts of the body. 

Most infections are mild, and they usually clear up without medical treatment within between 14-21 days.

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

If you think you might have been in contact with the monkeypox virus, it is important you isolate at home and contact your healthcare provider on the phone or virtually so that they can advise you on what to do. 

If you live with others, you can protect them by wearing a facemask around them, regularly cleaning your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer gel, and covering any rashes with clothing. 

How can I avoid getting monkeypox?

You can reduce your risk by limiting contact with people who have suspected or confirmed monkeypox. If it is difficult to limit contact, wear a face mask around people who have suspected/confirmed monkeypox and regularly wash/sanitize your hands. Avoid touching clothing, linens and surfaces that they have come into contact with. 

Is there a vaccine against monkeypox?

There are several vaccines available for prevention of smallpox that also provide some protection against monkeypox – people who have been vaccinated against smallpox in the past will also have some protection against monkeypox. As smallpox was declared eradicated in the 80s, people under the age of 40 are unlikely to have had a smallpox vaccine during their lifetime. 

A newer vaccine that was developed for smallpox was approved in 2019 for use in preventing monkeypox, but is not yet widely available. The World Health Organization is working with the manufacturer to improve access. 

For more information about monkeypox, please refer to the World Health Organization’s guidance. 

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