Monkeypox: Everything you need to know

The monkeypox virus returns over sixty years after its discovery


Sabrina Zhu

An illustration of the monkeypox virus and symptoms. After the first recent monkeypox case’s confirmation in May, the virus has quickly spread to most parts of the world.

The monkeypox virus has reemerged this year with a global outbreak, and with around 15,000 recorded cases in the U.S. and 2,000 in California, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a global emergency on July 23.

The monkeypox virus is classified as an orthopoxvirus, along with similar DNA viruses such as smallpox that are capable of infecting both humans and animals. Although monkeypox was first discovered in humans in 1970 and had since remained mostly endemic to west Africa, the first recent case of the virus was confirmed in the United Kingdom on May 6. When monkeypox quickly spread around the world during the following months, the WHO declared it a global emergency, its highest level of alert.

Individuals infected with monkeypox develop symptoms including rashes, blisters, fevers, exhaustion and headaches within three weeks of being exposed to the virus. Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox has visible effects on those infected. Symptoms can last for between two to four weeks, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises infected individuals to quarantine and avoid close contact with others for the full duration of the illness.

Unlike COVID-19, which spreads through the air, monkeypox can only be transmitted through items touched by an infected person or direct contact with an infected person’s blisters, often during sexual intercourse. As a result, the risk of a monkeypox infection in a casual environment is significantly lower. To avoid exposure to the virus, the CDC suggests sanitizing and washing hands frequently as well as limiting skin-to-skin contact with others.

There are currently no reported monkeypox cases at the upper school, so no regular resting for the virus will take place, according to upper school nurse Jennifer Olson. 

“Cases should be reported to the campus nurse,” Olson said in an email interview with Harker Aquila. “If someone is actively symptomatic with a rash, they should stay home until cleared by their physician or if they have a diagnosed case, they should stay home until symptoms and rash have resolved.”

An infographic of monkeypox systems and cases across the nation and world. With around 15,000 recorded cases in the U.S. and 2,000 in California, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the monkeypox outbreak a global emergency on July 23. (Sabrina Zhu)

Approved in 2019 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine is only available to high risk individuals due to the low supply. Studies show that the vaccine produces the same immune response as the older smallpox vaccine last administered in 1972. For those who received it, the smallpox vaccine boosts resistance for the monkeypox virus but does not provide full immunity.

Along with the rise in monkeypox cases, a stigma associated with the LGBTQ+ community has emerged due to the majority of European and North American cases stemming from gay and bisexual relationships, even though anyone can contract the virus from physical contact. 

“I recently read an article that used monkeypox as a slur towards the LGBTQ+ community, and I think that there’s definitely going to be a lot of stigma around monkeypox, especially since one of the main ways to contract it is sex,” Women in STEM (WiSTEM) Officer of Communications Ananya Das (10) said. “I think the fact that it’s so visual will only make it worse because … you can’t disguise monkeypox as a different fighter disease.”

Medical Club Vice President Nikhil Devireddy (12) believes the visual confirmation that comes with a monkeypox infection will amplify the already prevalent fear of the virus.

“It’s not something that’s silent but deadly like COVID-19 was,” Nikhil said. “Therefore, I think people will be safer with it, and they’ll take more precautions to ensure their safety because of how visible the symptoms are to the public.” 

The circumstances of the pandemic have already prepared the public for staying safe from a deadly disease such as monkeypox, according to Ananya. The WHO has only recently declared monkeypox as a global emergency, and at the current transmission rate, Ananya believes the virus is a long way from evolving into a pandemic.

“I think if this virus existed in a pre-pandemic world, it very much could [spread rapidly], but because of COVID-19, everybody has just learned to stay healthy as almost like a knee-jerk habit,” Ananya said. “That extra caution when it comes to sickness, because of the pandemic we’ve already gone through, will prevent monkeypox from becoming a global pandemic.”