A viral and rare disease, monkeypox is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. The earliest record of human cases of monkeypox dates back to 1970 while the disease itself was recognized in 1958 among groups of laboratory monkeys. May 2022 marks the most recent outbreak of monkeypox, where the initial cases began in the United Kingdom. In early May 2022, the first case of monkeypox was detected in a man who had traveled to Nigeria. Up until 24 July 2022, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been more than 15,000 cases recorded. This is the first time the majority of monkeypox cases do not occur in countries where the disease is endemic such as West or Central Africa.
This year’s ongoing cases have affected several countries such as Portugal, Spain, the United States, Australia, Sweden and Canada. Singapore confirmed the first case of monkeypox back in July when a Malaysian male residing in the country tested positive and suffered from symptoms such as skin lesions on the lower abdomen, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and fever. Most of the cases mainly infected men who have sex with men (MSM) and gay men.
1. Symptoms And Risk Factors of Monkeypox
It usually takes around 2 weeks for a person to develop symptoms after infection occurs. Fever, muscle aches, backaches and swollen lymph nodes may mark the onset of the disease. Besides these symptoms, people may get rash with blisters on their body, particularly around the genitals and anus as well as fatigue and chills. One defining characteristic of the ongoing monkeypox outbreak is the presence of pimple-like lesions in the buttock or genitals (penis, testicles, labia and vagina). These lesions can also be found in other areas (face, hands, chest or feet) and will go through several stages before healing. They typically begin as flat red rash that develop into pustules, but some can also turn into scabs. Monkeypox lesions or sores can be painful and itchy.
Regardless of sex, race and gender, anyone who comes in close contact with an infected person can be exposed to the virus. However, it is believed that the risk of contracting monkeypox in the general public is relatively low. Several public settings which can contribute to the spread of the virus include large parties (rave parties) and sex on premises venues.
2. Is Monkeypox a STD?
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease in the classic sense but it can spread through sexual intercourse. However, although most of the 2022 cases were identified through sexual health, monkeypox can still be transmitted through non-sexual situations:
- Direct skin-to-skin contact. Considered the main method of transmission, direct skin-to-skin contact may occur during kissing, sexual intercourse or accidentally touching or rubbing up against other people’s skin in music festivals or dance events
- Face-to-face contact. This method of transmission happens through respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face interactions. That being said, transmission can take place when living in the same house with an infected person or taking care of them
- Living under the same roof and sharing items. Living in the same place and sharing items such as towels, bedding, sex toys, and unwashed clothing can increase the risk of getting infected
- Particular public spaces. Some places such as sex clubs and saunas enable physical and sexual contact, making the chance of monkeypox transmission more likely
Infected people will normally recover within 2 to 4 weeks. It is important to note, however, that monkeypox can pose complications such as secondary infections, lung infection, bloodstream infection, as well as cornea infection with the risk of vision loss. Death risks are minimum but still present.
3. Preventing Monkeypox
There are several ways to do to reduce the risk of getting monkeypox:
- Learn about the disease, get familiar with how it spreads and get information from reputable and trustworthy sources such as the Singapore Ministry of Health, NCID and AFA.
- Always try to look for changes in your body and be aware and mindful of apparent symptoms. For instance, if you spot rashes and sores, especially in the genital areas and anus, you should talk about this to your partner
- Try to avoid face-to-face contact with any person who has symptoms
- If you happen to be infected, isolate yourself and consult health workers. You should self isolate until your symptoms subside completely.
- If rashes are one of the symptoms you are experiencing, you should cover it so transmission risk is lessened
- If you think that you have been exposed to monkeypox, try to check for blisters and rashes and check your temperature with a thermometer. One way to reduce the risk of transmission is also to mask up
- Practice good hand hygiene and always try to clean items and surfaces of objects that are frequently touched
4. Treating Monkeypox
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are no exact treatments for monkeypox as of now, but since monkeypox and smallpox’s viruses share some similarities genetically, this means that antiviral drugs and vaccines developed for smallpox may be utilized to treat monkeypox infections as well. Antivirals such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) are encouraged to be taken by those who get sick more easily and have weakened immune systems.
Mild cases of monkeypox clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. Some patients may only need pain medicine and oral fluids, but others may require intravenous fluids and other types of medicine to control fever. People with severe illness may also be subjected to certain medicines depending on respective conditions.
5. Erasing Stigma around Monkeypox
While it is true that a large number of monkeypox cases affect men who have sex with men and gay men, monkeypox is not a ‘gay disease’. It is imperative that we do not blame the outbreak on MSM and gay men. Stigmas and labels are only worsening the situation and having a particular sexual orientation has nothing to do with being susceptible or prone to the disease.