After 2 plus years of the COVID pandemic, the public is all too aware of the step wise escalation of concern for an illness.  The recent declaration by the federal government of a “public health emergency” related to the monkeypox outbreak occurring worldwide has most of us asking questions about the illness and worried about transmissibility( how easy it is to catch this virus).

A little background first; Monkeypox is a viral (antibiotics won’t treat this illness) zoonotic disease, meaning it  was transmitted from animals to humans.  Once present in the human species, human to human transmission has occurred. Spreading Monkeypox is not as easy as, say spreading COVID-19.  For example, if a family member has COVID-19, the rest of the family living with them has a greater than 40% chance of contracting COVID as well.  If a family member has Monkeypox, the rest of the family has about a 0.6% chance of contracting the illness (through non-sexual contact).  So, how is Monkeypox transmitted?

Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through close, intimate contact with the monkeypox lesions.  This is primarily through sexual intercourse.  The World Health Organization reports that 98% of monkeypox infections thus far have occurred in men who have sex with other men.  This does not make Monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection.  Infection from contact with lesions, blood from an infected individual, contaminated materials like bedding or clothes and close, prolonged face-to-face interaction with an infected individual is technically possible.  Current data shows that a person has about a 0.2% chance of contracting monkeypox from a contaminated surface. It is estimated that you would need hours of exposure to an infected surface and/or exposure to a large volume of the virus in order to become infected.  Brushing up against someone at a concert or sitting on a bus seat previously occupied by someone with monkeypox is exceedingly unlikely to cause infection.  Bottom line, the Monkeypox virus DOES NOT spread well through nonsexual routes of contact.  

So, why are we hearing so much about this current outbreak?  First, this is the first time in almost 20 years that we are seeing Monkeypox outside of endemic areas.  The outbreak that occurred in the US in 2003 was in pet prairie dogs imported from Ghana and was limited to about 70 human cases. Second, to release funding for public health awareness campaigns and stockpiles of vaccine, concern has to reach a certain level.  This does not necessarily mean the infections are worsening or are more severe.  It basically means the message of safe sex practices and vaccinations for high risk individuals is not reaching the people it needs to. 

It is important to remember that monkeypox is a self-limiting illness. This means that with time and supportive measures most people recover in 2-4 weeks. Fatality is around 3% (some data show the rate to be much lower, < 1%) and this is primarily in individuals that are immunocompromised.  Equally important to keep in mind is that this strain of Monkeypox seems to be quite a bit different than previous strains, with many more mutations.  As we learn more about this particular strain our  knowledge will evolve and so may health recommendations. 

I hope this has helped ease some fears and answer questions about the illness. 

Here are some good links with current information regarding the monkeypox outbreak.