The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee has declared the monkeypox outbreak to be a global health emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been over 16,000 cases globally, including in 68 countries where the virus isn’t typically seen. Of those cases, more than 2,800 were in the U.S.
Dr. Richard Kennedy, co-director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, explains what the declaration means. “The monkeypox outbreak has spread far beyond what we see in typical outbreaks and will likely require a global effort to stop. It serves as a warning to the global community that this is a serious public health issue.”
Dr. Kennedy says the declaration also is a threshold that many governments, global organizations and companies use to dictate their response.
Andrew Badley, M.D., is an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. From HIV to Ebola, and most recently COVID-19, he has witnessed the spread of many viruses over his career. “The the current outbreak underscores the need to implement measures that identify those who are infected early on, “and then quickly isolate and manage them appropriately in order to prevent further infections and ultimately control the spread of this disease to other humans.”
Drs. Kennedy and Badley say the global health emergency declaration would help by providing the resources to implement those measures.
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Questions and answers about monkeypox
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is an infection from animals caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus. Infection is transmitted to humans through scratches or bites from infected animals, such as rodents or nonhuman primates, or eating bush meat.
Human-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact with skin lesions, bodily fluids or through large respiratory droplets. Transmission is limited to close household contacts or health care workers not wearing personal protective equipment.
Initial symptoms are fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed by a rash. The rash initially consists of flat patches. It then progresses to raised nodules and then to vesicles, with one to two days in each phase. The final stage of pus-filled blisters can last five to seven days. The rash heals by scabbing over.
People with monkeypox are infectious to others from the onset of fever until all lesions scab over.
Do you need to be worried about catching monkeypox?
No. The overall risk for the public and health care providers is low at this time. Human-to-human spread of the virus occurs by direct contact with an infected person’s skin or that person’s secretions.
The public isn’t considered at high risk for several reasons. First, transmission of monkeypox requires prolonged close contact with people who are infected. Unlike COVID-19, where people may not know they are infected, people infected with monkeypox have symptoms, such as fever or a rash, that make it easier to recognize. These symptoms cause people to seek out medical care.
The incubation period — the time from when a person is exposed to when that person develops symptoms — is long. Therefore, public health measures can help prevent additional cases.
Finally, vaccines can prevent infection. Treatments are available for those who get infected.
Can you get vaccinated for monkeypox now?
No, vaccinations for monkeypox are not available to the public. In the event of exposure, public health authorities will guide vaccination of close contacts, including health care workers.
What vaccines and treatments are available?
Smallpox vaccines effectively prevent monkeypox if given before or within a few days of exposure. Other monkeypox therapies are tecovirimat and brincidofovir — both antiviral medications — and vaccinia immune globulin. These therapies were originally designed for smallpox but also work for monkeypox. All are available in the U.S. National Defense Stockpile.
How is Mayo Clinic prepared?
Mayo Clinic is prepared to safely handle clinical cases of monkeypox while protecting everyone’s safety. Mayo Clinic also is prepared to answer questions from patients about their risk, which is low.