Mississippi Today has compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to answer frequently asked questions about monkeypox and its presence in Mississippi.
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What is monkeypox?
According to the CDC, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, in the same family as the virus that causes smallpox. Before 2022, most monkeypox cases were traced back to central and western Africa; cases outside of the continent were related to international travel or imported animals.
Has monkeypox spread to Mississippi?
The first case of monkeypox was identified in Mississippi on July 25, according to the Mississippi Department of Health, and six cases were reported by early August. As of Aug. 18, the CDC reports 18 total cases in the state.
How does the virus spread?
Monkeypox can spread through close contact, including contact with rashes, scabs, fluids or respiratory secretions from someone with the disease. Contact also includes touching fabrics or surfaces someone infected has interacted with.
Intimate or sexual contact and even hugging, massaging, kissing or prolonged face-to-face contact can spread the virus.
Monkeypox can spread from a pregnant person to the fetus through the placenta, and bites, scratches, meat or other byproducts from animals can transfer the virus.
What do monkeypox symptoms look like?
Within three weeks of exposure, monkeypox symptoms can appear, most notably rashes — which may appear near the genitals, hands and other parts of the body — that go through several stages of appearing and healing, which can be painful and itchy. If flu-like symptoms start, a rash will likely develop up to four days later. Spread can occur from the start of symptoms until the skin has fully formed a new layer after healing.
How can I protect myself and others?
Primarily, avoid any contact with someone who has monkeypox or appears to have the rashes associated with the disease, including any objects they may have interacted with. And as always, wash your hands often, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Furthermore, similarly to COVID-19 vaccines, there is a two-dose and single-dose vaccine available for monkeypox, although MSDH only offers the two-dose version. But, the CDC recognizes the two-dose monkeypox vaccine, JYNNEOS, as the preferred version as it has less potential for side effects that could affect someone with a weaker or compromised immune system. JYNNEOS reaches maximum immune protection two weeks after the second dose.
Earlier this month, MSDH announced it would be expanding the eligibility criteria for receiving a monkeypox vaccine to include LGBTQ+ Mississippians at risk of infection.
Adults 18 and older may be eligible for a monkeypox vaccine if:
- They have been notified or are aware of close, intimate or sexual contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox.
- Or they identify as gay, bisexual, or as other men who have sex with men, or as a transgender individual, and they report having multiple or anonymous sex partners, or having attended an event or venue where monkeypox may have been transmitted (for instance, by sex or skin-to-skin contact).
Vaccination is the best form of protection against monkeypox, but it is also important to limit other behaviors to protect oneself, including reducing number and frequency of sexual partners, time spent at events in spaces with more likelihood of skin-to-skin contact, etc.
What should I do if I believe I have contracted monkeypox?
No specific treatment yet exists for monkeypox, but most individuals recover within a month or less without the need for treatment. The severity of how sick one becomes ultimately determines what kind of treatment or management is needed.
Otherwise, here are some ways to manage symptoms while you recover:
- Cover your rashes and scars with gauze or bandages to limit spread; wear (preferably disposable) gloves when handling or touching objects and surfaces in shared spaces; besides showering or bathing, keep rashes clean and dry
- Do not pop or scratch lesions, which can spread the infection to other people and other parts of the infected individual’s body; do not shave until the intended area is free of scabs and new skin has formed
- Wear a well-fitting mask — N95 or similar quality with an adjustable nose bridge — while around others
- Typical ibuprofen and acetaminophen brands help with pain
- Rinse rashes in the mouth at least four times a day with salt water
Pets can contract the virus as well, so if you believe or know you have monkeypox, ask a friend or family member to keep the pet until you recover and disinfect your home.