Monkeypox: Signs, Symptoms, and What Parents Need to Know

The CDC has issued new guidance on the symptoms of monkeypox as cases continue to rise—here’s what that means for families.

Monkeypox cases have surpassed 2,000 globally, and it's officially made its way to the United States. As of June 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 84 monkeypox cases have been confirmed. And while 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—the latest outbreak has many concerned.

The CDC maintains that monkeypox "risk to the general public is low," but has issued a "Level 2" travel alert to help protect against it and, on June 14, issued new guidance to help identify cases since it's presenting differently than in the past. But what exactly is monkeypox and should you be worried for your family? Here's what you need to know about this rare virus.

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What Is Monkeypox?

First discovered in 1958, monkeypox is a rare disease 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.

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the name will soon be changed to one that is "non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing" because people are making assumptions that the virus is an "African disease." Twenty-nine experts are currently calling the virus hMPXV until a new name is announced.

What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?

The symptoms of monkeypox are typically similar to that of smallpox—including fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, and, in sever cases, rashes—though the CDC notes they are milder.

On June 14, however, the CDC released new guidance for identifying cases because recent infections are presenting differently than in the past.

"In the United States, evidence of person-to-person disease transmission in multiple states and reports of clinical cases with some uncharacteristic features have raised concern that some cases are not being recognized and tested," the CDC wrote in new guidance. "Thus far in the U.S. outbreak, all patients diagnosed with monkeypox in the United States have experienced a rash or enanthem."

Monkeypox symptoms to watch for include:

  • New rash, especially in the mouth or around the genitals or anus—though lesions can occur in other areas
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Pain in or around the anus and rectum, rectal bleeding, and/or feeling the need to pass a bowel movement even though the bowels are empty
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Backache
  • General discomfort
  • Chills

How Do You Get Monkeypox?

While monkeypox remains rare, it's a contagious condition. Large respiratory droplets (through prolonged face-to-face contact) seem to be the main mode of transmission. "Other human-to-human methods of transmission include direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, and indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated clothing or linens," says the CDC.

Transmission "occurs when a person comes into contact with the virus from an animal, human, or materials contaminated with the virus. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth)," adds the organization. Animal-to-human transmission may also occur, whether from a bite or scratch or through food consumption.

In the current outbreak, some cases involve men who have sex with other men, and they seem to be related to travel, but it's important to note thatanyone can get or pass on monkeypox.

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 serious consequence. 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.

What's the CDC Level 2 Travel Alert on Monkeypox?

The CDC has issued a Level 2 travel advisory on monkeypox, which means that anyone traveling should "practice enhanced cautions," including:

  • Avoid close contact with anyone sick
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has skin and/or genital lesions
  • Avoid contact with dead or live wild animals (including, but not limited to, rats, squirrels, monkeys, and apes.
  • Avoid eating or preparing meat from wild game
  • Avoid using products (like creams, lotions, and powders) derived from wild animals in Africa
  • Avoid sharing clothing, bedding, or medical instruments/tools that have been contiminated or used by sick people or infected animals

Should Parents Be Worried About Monkeypox?

Despite monkeypox being contagious and the advisory to help contain the spread of monkeypox, the CDC says that "risk to the general public is low."

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is transmitted through prolonged close contact, which the CDC defines as within 6 feet for at least three hours. "It's not a situation where if you're passing someone in the grocery store, you're going to be at risk for monkeypox," Jennifer McQuiston, D.V.M., M.S., deputy director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at the CDC said.

Still, parents should be aware that monkeypox is spreading globally and in the U.S.

"I think any time there's an outbreak that is ongoing with no evidence of control, I think we should be concerned," Wafaa El-Sadr, M.D., a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, told ABC News. "I think that's different from being panic-stricken. But I think the continued increase in numbers of cases of monkeypox and continued increase in countries reporting cases is certainly of concern."

It's important that families stay on the lookout for any new rashes or symptoms and contact their health care provider with any concerns.

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