Has Monkeypox Been Silently Spreading For Years?

Monkeypox isn't new, but what's troubling infectious disease experts is that monkeypox cases worldwide seem to be shockingly high this past month. According to NBC News, a senior scholar from John Hopkins Center for Health Security, Dr. Amesh Adalja, explains, "What's likely happened is an endemic infectious disease from Africa found its way into a social and sexual network and then was greatly aided by major amplification events like raves in Belgium to disseminate around the world."

Monkeypox is a rare condition that was discovered in monkeys and then first detected in humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similar to symptoms of smallpox, the monkeypox virus begins with fever, achy muscles, tiredness, and swollen lymph nodes (a non-smallpox symptom) followed by a rash that spreads from the face and then throughout the body (via CDC). Since the first known case of monkeypox, the disease has spread to various countries.

Dr. Rosamund Lewis, the World Health Organization's technical lead for monkeypox, has said that monkeypox may have been spreading undetected for weeks, months, or even years now. Until recently, the virus was primarily transmitted from exposure to diseased animals, but sexual encounters may be the culprit for why monkeypox is now silently spreading, according to NBC News. Many recent cases in Europe and the U.S. have been unusually mild, with the lesions often being mistaken for other sexually transmitted infections, which can lead to misdiagnosis.

How do you treat monkeypox?

This puzzling rise in monkeypox cases has led to requests for vaccines from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, according to CNN. In the meantime, reported monkeypox cases in the U.S. have climbed to 20 cases across 11 states (per CNBC). Worldwide, cases have jumped to 780 infections across 27 countries, spreading most rapidly in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.

As of now, CNBC explains the U.S. has two vaccines available. Jynneos is a vaccine created by a Danish company to prevent both smallpox and monkeypox, and was approved in 2019 by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (via TIME). The vaccine works by administering a small amount of weakened smallpox virus into the body. When it comes to preventing monkeypox infections, researchers found Jynneos to be up to 85% effective.

On the other hand, ACAM200 is an older vaccine that's been approved to prevent smallpox. It's a single dose and can also prevent monkeypox, though it hasn't been reviewed by the FDA for this purpose, and it can have serious side effects.

"Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection in the typical sense, but it can be transmitted during sexual and intimate content, as well as with personal contact and shared bedding and clothing," shares the CDC's chief medical officer of HIV prevention Dr. John Brooks (via CNN).

If you're noticing any rash or lesions, especially around the genitals or anus, talk to your doctor immediately to rule out monkeypox.