As if one ongoing viral outbreak weren’t enough to worry about, health officials are now alerting us about an emerging disease: monkeypox. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox does not occur naturally in the U.S., so cases are typically very rare here. But on May 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that there is now a multi-country monkeypox outbreak happening in countries where the monkeypox virus does not normally spread. In the U.S., the CDC has already identified nine monkeypox cases in seven different states, per CNN. Now, top virus experts are jumping in to warn Americans about the disease, and what it could mean for them. Read on to find out what new alert was just issued by one of the country’s most prominent health leaders.
Monkeypox is a disease that is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, according to the CDC. The virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus, with also includes the virus that causes smallpox. As a result, some people might already be protected from monkeypox disease thanks to previous smallpox vaccinations. According to The New York Times, routine immunization for smallpox stopped in 1972 for most people in the U.S., although the military continued to be vaccinated against the virus until 1991.
“Because monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can protect people from getting monkeypox,” the CDC explains.
Even if you’ve had a previous smallpox vaccine, that may not be protecting you from monkeypox. Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House’s top COVID adviser, told The New York Times on May 26 that people began questioning the smallpox vaccine’s durability in 2001, following an anthrax attack. According to Fauci, it is reasonable to assume most vaccinated people are still protected, “but durability of protection varies from person to person.”
“We can’t guarantee that a person who was vaccinated against smallpox is still going to be protected against monkeypox,” Fauci told The New York Times.
According to the CDC, monkeypox symptoms usually occur seven to 14 days after exposure to the virus and begin with a fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. One to three days after a fever starts, patients develop a rash that usually begins on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, resulting in lesions that typically last for two to four weeks.
“In Africa, monkeypox has been shown to cause death in as many as 1 in 10 persons who contract the disease,” the CDC warns.
But the U.S. is working to prevent such a drastic turn of events. Walensky said that there are 74 laboratories in 46 states with access to tests that can detect monkeypox, and together they can screen up to 7,000 samples a week. “We’ve been preparing for this type of outbreak for decades,” Walensky told The New York Times,
According to the CDC, smallpox vaccines are believed to be effective at protecting people against monkeypox when given before exposure to virus, but also after exposure to potentially help prevent the disease or make it less severe. “Persons exposed to monkeypox virus and who have not received the smallpox vaccine within the last 3 years, should consider getting vaccinated,” the CDC says on its website. “The sooner the person receives the vaccine, the more effective it will be in protecting against monkeypox virus.”
Currently, the agency recommends boosters of smallpox vaccines every few years, but only “for persons at risk of occupation exposure,” David Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC, said in a statement to The New York Times.
“Until we know more, we will be using available vaccine stocks for people who’ve had close contact with known cases, and people at highest risk for exposure through their jobs, like health care workers treating monkeypox patients,” Daigle said.