Misconceptions about the monkeypox virus: What you need to know

·4 min read

With California and New York leading with the most monkeypox cases in the United States, Connecticut has announced its first case in the state.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the patient is a New Haven County man between the ages of 40 to 49. He has not been hospitalized and is currently in isolation.

Hartford HealthCare has been watching the threads of monkeypox closely and wants their patients to know the hospital is prepared to help anyone that has the virus.

“We have to make sure that outreach to those patient populations, those who may be at highest risk for getting it, is most important, but from the laboratory and hospital, diagnosis side as well as treatment, we are certainly prepared for it,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare. “But the first step of this is really community education and outreach to make sure that the correct patient populations that may be of highest risk are aware.”

Yale New Haven Hospital has a medical electronic system that will alert their frontline staff if a person is arriving with the virus.

“We actually have a step-by-step algorithm of what to do and how to handle it when that patient does come in, we do feel very confident in our ability to respond appropriately to a monkeypox patient coming in,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital. “And we also feel that we have the capabilities to protect our healthcare workers when these patients do arrive.”

Discovered in the 1950s, the first human monkeypox case was found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. Although the main source of the virus is not known, African monkeys and rodents can transmit the virus to people if infected, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms of monkeypox include backache, chills, exhaustion, fever, headache, muscle aches, a rash (can look like a blister or pimple) that appears all over the body and swollen lymph nodes.

Data shows that bisexual and gay men are at the highest risk of getting the virus, according to the CDC.

Wu warns that even though the CDC has the numbers to prove this finding, everyone should beware of the signs and symptoms of monkeypox since the virus is not centralized to one specific gender.

“I’m very cautious to say that that’s the population that we should be focused on,” Wu said. “We should certainly be focused on that to a certain extent, but I don’t want other people to think that they cannot get it. It does happen in other patient populations.”

Roberts also advises that even though the CDC states that the virus can be transmitted by sexual intercourse, everyone should cautious.

“My strong suspicion is that this is not primarily a sexually transmitted disease. I believe it usually requires close to prolonged contact to transmit through either contact with one of the infected lesions. Or what we suspect is probably if there [are] lesions in the mouth, even kissing to do it,” Robert said.

”I strongly suspect that the reason we’re seeing it in the MSM [men that have sex with men] community is much more so linked to social circles and close social networks, where the virus is being transmitted, as opposed to this being restricted just to the MSM community through sexual transmission. I do suspect that the majority of transmission is just close, prolonged contact with an infected individual that probably occurs through contact with an infected lesion or a rash on somebody’s body, which really sheds the virus.”

Studies have shown that monkeypox is linked to the Orthopoxvirus genus, which is also found in smallpox and cowpox. Even though the viruses are similar, they are not the same.

“The infectivity of smallpox is much greater than that for monkeypox. Even though they’re in the same genus, and they’d have the same rash, that’s kind of where the similarities will end,” Wu said.

As the number of COVID-19 cases decrease in Connecticut, many are concerned with the potential interaction of the two viruses. With monkeypox, there is a longer wait period to know if you have the virus.

“COVID is as short as three days, actually even shorter. The average time is three days. So if somebody coughs on you, you probably won’t have symptoms [un]til three days later,” Roberts said. “With monkeypox, it’s actually one to two weeks and even up to three weeks. So that buys a lot of time to do vaccinations in people who were exposed but aren’t yet having symptoms.”

To respond to the current monkeypox outbreak, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS, an FDA-licensed vaccine used for smallpox and monkeypox.

Although the CDC does not recommend widespread vaccination against monkeypox yet, people who may have been exposed to the virus are encouraged to get the vaccine between four and 14 days of exposure.