There have been just two reported cases of monkeypox in the U.S. and the healthcare system has an effective vaccine, but public health officials are still concerned with the recent outbreak mainly because it’s not clear how these individuals became infected.
Monkeypox is a viral disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans through skin-to-skin contact and respiratory droplets. It is in the same family of diseases as smallpox but is less severe and mainly occurs in West and Central Africa, but the World Health Organization has confirmed at least 200 cases across a dozen countries over the last few weeks, and officials expect the number of cases to rise as providers look for symptoms. Doctors identified the first confirmed case outside of Africa just 10 days ago, which shows the virus is spreading fast.
The problem is that the virus is popping up in people who have never traveled to West and Central Africa, which has left doctors baffled. The WHO convened a special session over the weekend to address the outbreak. Officials now believe the virus is spreading mainly through sex and prolonged intimate contact.
Early symptoms include fever, headache, back pain, muscle aches, and fatigue. It then turns into a rash on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals that become raised bumps, or papules, and then eventually blisters that often resemble chicken pox. The current vaccine is 85% effective in preventing the disease, but monkeypox can kill as many as 1 in 10 people who get infected, based on data in Africa, according to the CDC.
The federal government is monitoring the spread of the virus closely, but officials say there’s still no reason to panic.
“I don’t think this is going to be uncontrolled spread in the same way that we tolerated the Covid-19 epidemic,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration. “But there is a possibility now this has gotten into the community if in fact it’s more pervasive than what we’re measuring right now, that becomes hard to snuff out.”
Unfortunately, the recent monkeypox outbreak is becoming just as divisive as the COVID-19 pandemic. Several new conspiracy theories are already spreading online linking the disease to billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, not unlike the one that promoted the idea that the mogul was using the COVID-19 vaccine to implant computer chips into people’s brains that tracked their movements.
Politicians on the far right are also promoting these false beliefs. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) recently called out Gates by name on Facebook Live.
“Bill Gates is very concerned about monkeypox because this is something, apparently, he can make a lot of money off of. Him and his other buddies,” Greene said. “They’re going to have pictures of all of these kinds of terrifying images. They’re going to show children with this all over their faces. And of course, they’re going to be from…I don’t know where they are going to be from.”
Some providers and patients are taking the situation more seriously than others. Nurses have been sharing their thoughts on the recent outbreak on social media.
“I think it’s another attempt to scare people and keep them in their homes, wearing masks,” wrote one nurse online.
“Just another thing to distract us from what’s really happening in the world,” wrote another.
“I’m not even paying attention to this circus anymore 🤡,” wrote another.
“I had a patient ask to be placed on the waitlist for the monkeypox vaccine ✌️✌️,” wrote another.
The lack of information on how the virus spreads has also inflamed suspicion among some members of the public.
“It’s not new. It can be contained. It usually doesn’t appear outside of Africa and recent cases have shown up in people who haven’t traveled or been exposed to those who’ve traveled to Africa, so I immediately question how that’s happening. COVID fear has dropped off, so they have to create a new thing to fear. Best form of control is fear,” wrote another person online. “Hate to join the Bill Gates hate club, but he was talking about this before anyone outside of Africa even heard of it. He seems to be prophetic. 🙄”
Some providers said they were more focused on other issues affecting public health, including access to abortion.
“This too will pass. I am more concerned about women losing rights to their own bodies,” wrote another.
Others shared their fears of having to work through another pandemic.
“If it becomes another pandemic, I’m dropping out of nursing!” wrote one nurse.
“I’m interested from a scientific standpoint in how it’s spreading among those who haven’t been (or recently been) to Africa.”
“Most people my age received the smallpox vaccine prior to starting school. (It was mandatory 😁) so I should be good to go!” wrote another.
“We just had a pregnant patient with chicken pox on my floor. Then she saw monkeypox in the news. I think people need to be tested for a whole slew of communicable diseases before they come to another country,” wrote another nurse.
For the most part, nurses remained optimistic that the monkeypox outbreak won’t turn into another COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think each year there’s a couple cases some place in the world. If they contact trace and isolate, it should go away. It’s difficult to transmit and some people may have some small immunity if immunized for smallpox. I think it’s a news hype for click bait that will disappear. But I am an optimist,” wrote one nurse.
“It’s something that’s not new to us, with a low R0, lower mutability as a DNA virus (rather than RNA like a coronavirus), and the people who are leaping to connect it to politics need to take up a nice hobby, like putting together puzzles or bird watching. Your doctor would probably appreciate the drop in your blood pressure. 🙂”
Here’s hoping we don’t have to worry about monkeypox any time soon.