Based on past data from Africa, both available vaccines would be up to snuff 85% efficient prevent monkeypox infection. They can also be given up to four days after exposure to monkeypox to prevent infectionand for up to two weeks after exposure to reduce the severity of symptoms in an ill person.
Other treatments include an antiviral drug called TPOXX which is approved to treat monkeypox in the European Union, but not yet in the USA, where it is permitted only for smallpox. For US doctors to prescribe TPOXX for monkeypox, they must request the drug from the CDC, then fill out the paperwork for each person to whom it is administered, which means that prescriptions have been low. The CDC said it works to reduce this bureaucracy; patients and healthcare professionals have criticized the organization for not resolving this supply issue quickly enough.
If someone becomes seriously ill, the US CDC said that two other treatments – a monoclonal antibody called anti-vaccine immunoglobulin and an antiviral called cidofovir – can be used. But there is still no data on the effectiveness of either.
Can I get vaccinated even if I have not been exposed?
Vaccines are not yet widely available. However, if you are at higher risk of catching monkeypox, you may be eligible for a vaccine even without being definitely exposed.
The current epidemic is mainly spreading among men who have sex with men (MSM). In the United States, this means that MSM who have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days and who live in areas where monkeypox is spreading are eligible for vaccination, according to the CDC. If you think you qualify, contact your healthcare provider.
Note that in some states the eligibility criteria are broader, so check what they are where you are. In North Carolina, for example, MSM who have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past 90 days are eligible, and there are no area restrictions. MSM who have taken PrEP within the past 90 days or have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection are also eligible.
That said, be aware that you may have to wait for the doses to become available. As of this writing, supply shortages mean that New York City does not have vaccination appointments to book, and San Francisco had to close its walk-in vaccination service.
In the UK, MSM who have multiple partners, engage in group sex, or frequent “sex on location” venues are prioritized for vaccination. However, if you think you might be eligible, the National Health Service asks you to wait to be invited for vaccination – walk-in services are not available.
Where does monkeypox come from?
While the current outbreak will be the first time many will hear of monkeypox, the virus is believed to have been infecting people for centuries, if not millennia. A member of the same family of viruses as chickenpox and smallpox, The first documented cases of monkeypox date back to 1958when there were two outbreaks in colonies of laboratory monkeys kept for research – hence the name.
This, however, is a bit of a misnomer. The virus is usually carried by rodents such as squirrels, ladle rats, and dormice, among others. In the past, cases have tended to occur near the tropical rainforests of central and western Africa, where the virus is endemic. From the 1980s to 2010, cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) increased more than 14 timesand only in 2020 there were nearly 4,600 suspected cases monkeypox in the DRC. There was also more than 550 suspected cases in Nigeria since 2017. Given these numbers and the interconnectedness of the world through air travel, the current global epidemic is not really surprising.
Where can I get reliable information about the disease?
The World Health Organization, US CDCand UK Health Security Agency provided regular Twitter updates on the monkeypox outbreak. Global.health—an international collaboration that provides real-time data on infectious diseases—has also created a monkeypox tracker monitor confirmed and suspected cases as they arise. These all offer reliable information about the current outbreak.
It is important to avoid stigmatizing infected people. One of the main lies circulating is that monkeypox only affects men who have sex with men, or that this group is responsible for the epidemic. People of any gender or sexual orientation can get the disease.
Other particularly wild untruths include the claim that some Covid-19 vaccines cause monkeypox because they inject chimpanzee genomic information into your cells, that the virus is airborne, that infections double every three days , that monkeypox is as deadly as smallpox, and that it is a man-made virus from a lab, none of which is true.
This story was originally published on May 27, 2022 and has been updated to reflect new information.