Based on previous data from Africa, the two available vaccines are believed to be up to 85 percent efficient to prevent a monkeypox infection. They can also be given up to four days after exposure to monkeypox prevent infectionand up to two weeks after exposure to reduce the severity of symptoms in a person who is ill.
Other treatments include an antiviral drug called TPOXX, which is approved to treat monkeypox in the EU, but not yet in the US, where it is only cleared of smallpox. In order for US doctors to prescribe TPOXX for monkeypox, they must apply to the CDC for the drug and then complete paperwork for each person it is given to, meaning prescriptions have been low. CDC say it works to reduce this bureaucracy; patients and healthcare professionals have criticized the organization for not solving this supply problem quickly enough.
If someone becomes seriously ill, the US CDC must have said that two other treatments – a monoclonal antibody called vaccinia immunoglobulin and an antiviral called cidofovir – can be used. But there is still no data on how effective either would be.
Can I get a vaccine even if I have not been exposed?
Vaccines are not yet widely available. But if you have a higher risk of getting monkeypox, you may be eligible for one even without being exposed.
The current outbreak is spreading predominantly 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 prevalent are eligible for vaccination according to the CDC. If you think you are eligible, 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 within 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 doses to become available. At the time of writing, a lack of supplies means that New York City has no bookable vaccination appointments, and San Francisco has had to close its drop-in vaccination service.
In the UK, MSM who have multiple partners, engage in group sex or attend “sex on premises” venues are prioritized for vaccination. However, if you think you may be eligible, the National Health Service asks that you wait to be invited for vaccination – walk-in services are not available.
Where did Monkeypox come from?
While the current outbreak will be the first time many have heard of monkeypox, the virus is believed to have infected humans for centuries, possibly even millennia. Member of the same virus family as chickenpox and smallpox, The first documented case of monkeypox was back in 1958when there were two outbreaks in colonies of laboratory monkeys kept for research – hence the name.
However, this is a bit of a misnomer. The virus is normal carried by rodents such as squirrels, possums and dormouse, among others. Cases in the past have tended to occur near tropical rainforests in Central and West Africa, where the virus is endemic. From the 1980s until 2010, cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) increased more than 14 timesand only in 2020 there were nearly 4,600 suspected cases of monkeypox in the DRC. There has also been that more than 550 suspected cases in Nigeria since 2017. Given these numbers and how interconnected the world is thanks to air travel, the current global outbreak is actually not that surprising.
Where can I get reliable information about the disease?
That World Health Organization, US CDCand UK Health Safety Agency has 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 to monitor confirmed and suspected cases as they occur. These all provide reliable information about the current outbreak.
It is important to avoid stigmatizing the infected. One of the main falsehoods circulating is that monkeypox only affects men who have sex with men, or that this group is responsible for the outbreak. People of any gender or sexual orientation can get the disease.
Other particularly wild falsehoods include the claim that certain 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’s a man-made virus leaked from a lab – none of which are true.
This story was originally published on May 27, 2022 and has been updated to reflect new information.