Developed countries, particularly the United States, have recently been experiencing a monkeypox outbreak. While these recent monkeypox infections have been reported among sexually active people, the actual transmission route for this virus is very different from traditional STDs.
While it is possible to transmit the monkeypox virus to other individuals during sexual intercourse, monkeypox is not a traditional sexually transmitted disease. This means that monkeypox spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact and does not require an explicit sexual act of any kind for its transmission. Moreover, monkeypox also does not depend on the exchange of genital fluids during sexual intercourse, unlike many other sexually transmitted diseases.
The difference between monkeypox transmission and other STD transmission is described below. However, it pays well to understand the basics of monkeypox infection to understand its transmission better.
HOW DOES MONKEYPOX SPREAD?
Monkeypox is an infection caused by the monkeypox virus, a double-stranded DNA virus. This virus is closely related to the smallpox virus family, and it causes a mild to moderate inflammatory reaction which resolves on its own within 3-4 weeks. Generally, monkeypox infections are not life-threatening. However, coupled with other comorbid conditions, monkeypox can be a complicated infection to handle.
While it is true that most of the monkeypox cases from the recent outbreak in the USA and other western countries are among highly sexually active people, monkeypox is not a true STD in the traditional sense. Unlike other traditional STDs, monkeypox has a key fundamental difference in its route of transmission: monkeypox does not require explicit sexual contact between individuals to spread. Moreover, this virus does not require exchanging genital fluids for its transmission.
The main route of transmission for the monkeypox virus is direct skin-to-skin contact. One of the main symptoms of a monkeypox infection is a vesicular rash on the skin. This rash can appear in the form of blisters or papules. These blisters contain pus and cell debris along with viral particles. Whenever an individual comes into contact with fluid from these blisters, there is a high chance that they will contract the monkeypox virus.
These blisters can appear on the skin and mucous membranes, including the oral cavity, the genitals, and the anal canal. The hypothesis that monkeypox spreads through direct contact with blisters is further supported by the fact that monkeypox is highly transmissible by a symptomatic individual.
The key difference, thus, between the transmission of monkeypox and all other STDs is that traditional STDs require sexual contact or exchange of genital fluid for the disease-causing agent to be transmitted.
Other than sexual intercourse, here are some of the ways through which monkeypox can be transmitted to other people:
- Shaking hands
- Sharing bedding, clothes
- Sharing personal hygiene products
- Sharing towels and other linen
IS MONKEYPOX FATAL?
Monkeypox virus usually causes a mild to moderate infection. This infection is usually not fatal. The current outbreak caused by the West African clade is strictly nonfatal as no affected individual has died from the infection yet. However, monkeypox infections can be troublesome in people with low immunity and those with chronic diseases.
IS MONKEYPOX THE SAME THING AS SMALLPOX?
Monkeypox and smallpox viruses belong to the same family known as the orthopoxvirus family. Therefore, both of these viruses are highly similar. However, their similarities do not mean that these viruses are identical. The symptoms caused by these viruses are vastly different in presentation and severity. The smallpox virus was also very contagious and spread faster than the monkeypox virus.
HOW LONG DOES MONKEYPOX LAST?
The first symptoms of a monkeypox infection appear within days or weeks of the first viral exposure. After the initial onset of symptoms, the illness lasts for around 3-4 weeks before resolving on its own. A monkeypox infection only rarely extends beyond 4 weeks after its first set of symptoms appear.
IS MONKEYPOX TREATABLE?
While there is no definite cure for monkeypox, the infection itself is self-resolving. Only symptomatic treatment is needed for individuals who have developed symptoms following initial exposure to the monkeypox virus. Symptomatic treatment includes paracetamol for fever control, analgesic for body aches, antihistamines, and steam therapy for nasal congestion. Plenty of fluids and adequate rest is also beneficial for people with monkeypox symptoms.
When treatment is needed, antiviral drugs that are effective against the smallpox virus are also useful against the monkeypox virus. These antiviral drugs eliminate the viral particles from the bloodstream, lowering the individual's viral load and practically eliminating the symptoms of the infection within days.
Preventative measures against monkeypox infections are also available. Vaccines that are effective against the smallpox virus also prove highly beneficial for monkeypox infections. These vaccines can provide adequate protection against the monkeypox virus for children and adults.
WHAT TO DO IF I HAVE SYMPTOMS OF MONKEYPOX?
If you develop an unusual rash or any of the symptoms of monkeypox listed above, the first step is not to panic. While this disease may spread at an alarming rate in the developing world, it is not usually fatal. Individuals usually experience a moderately troublesome infection that resembles a common cold, which resolves on its own within weeks.
Talking to your healthcare provider when symptoms appear is the best way to deal with a monkeypox infection. Your healthcare provider may provide a medication regimen that treats your symptoms and eliminates the viral particles from your blood. Moreover, your healthcare provider may also provide helpful tips to protect your family from acquiring this infection.
The next step should be to be open and direct about your symptoms with your sexual partner. Your partner has the right to know about any disease process that you have which might also affect their health adversely. Talk to your partner about the symptoms you are experiencing and restrain from sexual activity until your symptoms have resolved.
It also pays off well to partially segregate yourself from people living with you because the monkeypox virus is highly contagious. Keeping your dishes and glasses separate, taking baths in a separate bathroom, not sharing any personal hygiene products, and using a separate towel are all highly effective ways of protecting your friends and family from acquiring this infection.