Skip to main content

This Pox is Bananas

By ,

Photo by Mike Dorner on Unsplash

The next major pandemic may already be here. I’m not sure who ordered it, since we’ve still got plenty of COVID-19 leftovers in the fridge, but monkeypox, typically a disease confined to the African continent, has started popping up in the United States, the Middle East, Australia, and Europe. Monkeypox has hospitalized around thirty individuals so far this year and infected fewer than three hundred people total. Despite the rookie numbers, news media and health organizations alike seem poised for monkeypox to be the next big deal, and much of the public information available about the disease has been changed to reflect what seems to be a growing threat – and a potential pandemic.

What is Monkeypox?

Similar to other orthopoxviruses…monkeypox came to humans from animals.

Since we all remember how downplaying the coronavirus turned out, let’s get ahead of the game here. Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, and is most-often characterized by the emergence of blister-like lesions on the face and body, similar to but larger than those caused by smallpox. Other symptoms may include swollen glands, fever, muscle fatigue, and exhaustion, and like COVID-19, cases can also be asymptomatic. Typical cases last two weeks to a month, and symptoms or signs of infection may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to show up, making it potentially quite difficult to trace.

Similar to other orthopoxviruses such as smallpox and chickenpox, monkeypox came to humans from animals. The first human cases were discovered in the Congo in 1970, and until recently, monkeypox remained mostly in Africa. In the United States in 2003, a population of pet prairie dogs was behind the first outbreak outside of Africa prior to this one, and a total of seventy one people were infected, none of whom died. I’m not sure what happened to the prairie dogs, but it is believed they only got infected.

Monkeypox is transmitted between humans by close contact with an infected person or contaminated object, or by an exchange of bodily fluids, which is what sources say is likely responsible for this outbreak. As this includes the same kind of airborne particles which helped ferry COVID around so efficiently, we can expect more masks and social distancing if this thing does take off.

Where do we go from here?

…hopefully won’t be too many worries about emergency measures…

As far as prevention goes, we’re not at the point where we need to adopt any specific preventative measures such as masks or handwashing, but be advised that those treating patients with monkeypox usually deck themselves out in a full protective suit, goggles, and N95 mask. If you get infected, you could be looking at an extended quarantine, depending on the efficacy of treatments and your own immune system.

The very obvious physical symptoms of monkeypox make it difficult to mythologize the disease away as “another flu” or grand conspiracy. The most common vaccine for monkeypox is the same one humanity used to confine smallpox to the history books more than fifty years ago, so there hopefully won’t be too many worries about emergency measures or potentially unsafe jabs. While a monkeypox-specific vaccine does exist, it’s been around since 2013, and is basically a modified smallpox vaccine. Furthermore, smallpox vaccines are attenuated, which means the virus material that makes up the vaccine is unable to replicate within the human body, reducing the risk of any vaccine-related complications dramatically.

How did the outbreak happen?

…monkeypox doesn’t have the potential to be as big of a pain for so long.

What caused this normally highly localized virus to suddenly pop up around the world is currently under investigation, and although there’s no definitive answer yet, the genome of the virus itself is being analyzed by an Austrian firm. This research may reveal why the virus seems more readily transmitted between humans than previously observed, and what might have precipitated such a sudden explosion after years and years of relative stability. The simple answer is evolution, which is certainly possible despite the generally lower rate of mutations in viruses like monkeypox when compared to something like COVID, but we’ll know more soon I’m sure.

If monkeypox does manage to take the world by storm, we’re not likely to go through the same amount of confusion, frustration, and acrimony that continues to surround the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, we’re all used to this nonsense by now, and everything we know at this point indicates that monkeypox doesn’t have the potential to be as big of a pain for so long. And again, we’ve had the tools to deal with this disease for years – the current CDC recommendation for those worried about monkeypox is to get a smallpox vaccine. Beyond that, all we can do is wait for more information and not waste too much time worrying.

Stay safe out there, and take good care of each other.

Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.

Related: , ,