After the news Wednesday that Lexington confirmed its first case of monkeypox, parents might be wondering if their children are at risk of catching the virus as they head back to school.
Monkeypox can spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, touching infected objects like clothing and other fabrics and other means, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, young children, children with eczema and other skin conditions and those with immune-compromising conditions may be at increased risk of severe disease after catching monkeypox, per the CDC.
Is monkeypox a risk for children?
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department did not release demographic details, including age, about the county’s first positive case of monkeypox.
“We cannot release any details regarding this case at this time,” spokesperson Christina King wrote in a Wednesday email. “However, we are working with the case and any possible contacts to make sure all health guidelines and precautions are followed.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics rates the risk of children contracting monkeypox as low.
As of Tuesday, there were only eight confirmed pediatric cases in the U.S. Compare that to the more than 12,000 monkeypox cases nationwide, according to the CDC’s monkeypox tracker.
Like all viruses, children and adolescents are more likely to be exposed to monkeypox if they live in or have recently traveled to a community with higher rates of infection.
Note: This graphic will automatically update as new data become available.
What do parents need to know this school year about monkeypox?
Fayette County Schools students have been back in school for a week, with the school district opting to not require masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus for the school year that began Aug. 10.
Additionally, last week, the CDC loosened its COVID-19 guidelines around quarantining and social distancing.
All this comes as monkeypox cases continue to climb nationwide, with more than 12,000 cases across the country and at least 15 cases in Kentucky, according to the CDC’s monkeypox tracker.
Given these factors, the LFCHD wants caregivers and school staff to remain “aware and cautious,” spokesperson Kevin Hall wrote in an email to the Herald-Leader Thursday.
According to Hall, young children, pregnant people and those with weak immune systems, as well as people who have severe eczema, are more at risk to become very ill if they get monkeypox.
Parents should be alert to rashes their children might develop.
“If anyone in the family develops a new rash that looks like pimples or blisters, or has other possible symptoms of monkeypox, call your doctor so they can find out what is causing the symptoms. Also let the doctor know if anyone in your family has had contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox,” Hall wrote.
Of course, children can get rashes for all kinds of reasons, so spotting one isn’t a reason to panic.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease and it can be contracted by anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
It is often transmitted through close, sustained physical contact, which can include sexual contact. But there are other ways the virus can spread, including through the following methods, per the CDC:
Direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs or body fluids from a person with monkeypox.
Touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding or towels) and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
Contact with respiratory secretions.
Sexual contact, but also hugging, massage and kissing or prolonged face-to-face contact.
Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.
It’s also possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal.
Contrary to what its name implies, monkeypox does not come from monkeys. It’s called monkeypox because it was first isolated from a monkey in Africa. Rodents are the most common reservoir for the virus. The first outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S. in 2003 was caused by prairie dogs.
The characteristic blisters that have become associated with monkeypox may not appear right away.
It can take anywhere from five to 21 days after exposure for symptoms to start, Hall pointed out.
A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.
What can I do to protect my child?
Monkeypox vaccines are currently in short supply nationwide.
According to Hall, the best defense at this time may be to practice frequent hand-washing, masking and avoiding contact with sick people and animals.
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