February 4, 2023

Signs, Symptoms, and What Parents Need to Know

Female doctor doing research in laboratory. Side view of female doctor using microscope during research in laboratory.

Female doctor doing research in laboratory. Side view of female doctor using microscope during research in laboratory.

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After cases of monkeypox, which is closely related to smallpox, were reported in Europe and Australia, it seems it has now made its way to the United States. On Wednesday, May 18, Massachusetts health officials confirmed a single case of monkeypox had been found in the state. By Thursday, news of a possible cases had surfaced in New York, and CNN reports that six other cases are being monitored.

“The Health Department’s Public Health Lab will conduct preliminary tests, which—if positive—will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] for confirmatory testing,” the CDC said in a press release. “The Department’s epidemiologists will follow up with any individual who may have been in contact with the patient while infectious.”

This isn’t the first time monkeypox has appeared stateside. Two cases of the virus were documented in America in 2021, and in 2003, health experts identified 47 cases of monkeypox across six states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. However, the latest news has many concerned. Parents are, rightfully, on edge.

But what exactly is monkeypox—and should you be worried for your family? Here’s what you need to know about this rare but contagious virus.

What Is Monkeypox?

First discovered in 1958, monkeypox is “a rare disease that is caused by [an] infection with [the] monkeypox virus,” according to the CDC. The disease is in the same family as smallpox. It causes flu-like symptoms and painful, itchy lesions, and the first human case of monkeypox was reported in 1970, per the CDC.

What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?

The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to that of smallpox, though the CDC notes they are milder. “Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion,” explains the organization. In more severe cases, a rash can develop, often on the face and genitals, and painful, itchy lesions can form across the body.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Backache

  • General discomfort

  • Chills

How Do You Get Monkeypox?

While monkeypox remains rare, it is a contagious condition. “Transmission of [the] monkeypox virus occurs when a person comes into contact with… an animal, human, or materials contaminated with the virus,” writes the CDC. “The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), [through the] respiratory tract, or [through] the mucous membranes… human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets.” Animal-to-human transmission may also occur, be it via a bite or scratch or through food consumption.

How Long Does Monkeypox Last?

Those infected with monkeypox usually experience symptoms seven to 14 days after infection, says the CDC—thought the incubation period ranges from five to 21 days. The illness itself can last several weeks.

Can Monkeypox Be Treated?

While a vaccine, which was developed for smallpox, has been approved for monkeypox, there haven’t been enough studies to determine its safety or effectiveness. “Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox,” writes the CDC. However, antivirals and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used to control a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, if and when one ever occurs.

Is Monkeypox Deadly?

Monkeypox can be deadly; however, the illness usually passes without incident. Infected individuals tend to recover in two to four weeks. Still, it has a reported death rate of 1 percent to 10 percent, according to the World Health Organization—depending on the strain.

Should Parents Be Worried About Monkeypox?

Health officials say that while monkeypox is contagious, there’s no reason to worry.

“While investigations remain ongoing to determine the source of infection, it is important to emphasize it does not spread easily between people and requires close personal contact with an infected symptomatic person,” Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA, said on May 14.

Jay K. Varma, M.D., an epidemiologist and director of the Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response, also told ABC that monkeypox “can be spread through the air but unlike COVID which can spread over a long-range and hang around in the air for a long time, we don’t believe that is true with this virus.”

So while a monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. may not be cause for alarm, parents should be aware of any new rashes or symptoms and contact their healthcare provider with any concerns.