By Alyssa Diaz
Move over COVID, there’s a new virus in town.
Monkeypox – the newest global health outbreak – began making headlines back in May.
But this ‘new’ viral threat is actually nothing new at all.
The first instance of monkeypox was documented more than half a century ago in 1970, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus remained mostly only in western and central Africa until cases started popping up in the United Kingdom.
While the exact origins of monkeypox are unknown, all recent cases have been tied to imported animals or foreign travel to places where the illness frequently occurs.
Most notable about monkeypox is its viral correlation to the more widely known smallpox virus. While both are caused by viruses of the variola family and thus share similar symptoms to one another, The Economic Times reports that the smallpox virus is much more lethal than its modern-day counterpart.
Since its outbreak in May, the CDC reports that there have been 67,602 confirmed cases of monkeypox worldwide – 25,509 of which are in the U.S. While the U.S. has the world’s largest fraction of monkeypox cases, health officials say that the chances of monkeypox developing into a national health threat are unlikely.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, skin rash, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes, and appear anywhere between five to 21 days after exposure. The disease typically begins as a fever followed by a skin rash. Most often, the blistering rash will begin on the face, hands, or feet before spreading to other areas of the body.
Still, other symptoms should be monitored and reported.
“In addition to having the rash, if you’re having serious headaches or if you have flu-like symptoms you should get checked,” said Eileen Egan-Hineline, director of Student Health Services.
Monkeypox can be contracted through direct contact with a contagious rash, open sores, or saliva. Like COVID, this virus can be transmitted through respiratory secretions. This means those within proximity to those with the virus are at risk of contracting it through the air, but only through interactions such as hugging, snuggling, or intercourse.
“Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, even though it can be spread through physical contact,” adds Egan-Hineline. “It has been much more common in men having sex with men.”
Monkeypox’s disproportional impact on men who have sex with men (MSM) has been brought to attention by major media outlets, including CNN and Fox News.
According to an article on science.org, the virus may have entered the MSM’s “highly interconnected sexual networks,” thus enabling it to spread in the MSM community in ways that it couldn’t in other populations.
However, it should remain clear that monkeypox is a virus and not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, all of those exposed to the virus through direct physical contact are at risk.
As a university, Egan-Hineline insists that Barry remains committed to keeping campus a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff.
In a recent survey of 56 Barry students, while 52 percent are afraid of monkeypox, only 30 percent are more afraid of monkeypox than COVID. Additionally, students are about equally split on whether they would avoid large gatherings in wake of the new virus.
Though she doesn't consider monkeypox to be nearly as harmful as COVID, Virginia Rivas, a sophomore majoring in biology, says she’s taking the necessary precautions to avoid the virus.
“We should limit contact with each other and disinfect things like desks and door handles. Just getting educated on monkeypox and what we can do to prevent it is important,” Rivas said.
While there are currently no approved treatments, The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reports that as of late June, the government has implemented a policy vowing to vaccinate those at threat for monkeypox, giving priority to regions with the greatest number of cases.
Egan-Hineline reports that cases of monkeypox at Barry have remained low, but those who still want to vaccinate should call their doctor to see if they qualify.
“I hope the COVID-19 pandemic and the monkeypox outbreak are leading all of us to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Prevention is so much better than relying on treatment,” said Dr. John McFadden, vice provost for health and wellness.
For more information on monkeypox, visit: www.cdc.gov