About Monkeypox: Monkeypox is a virus which is in the same family as smallpox and cowpox (Vaccinia). It was first identified in the 1950’s in a colony of laboratory monkeys. It is primarily a disease of animals; in the past most human cases were the result of direct contact with infected animals (e.g. pet prairie dogs infected by imported animals from Ghana). Currently there is a worldwide outbreak sustained by human-to-human transmission — likely the result of genetic mutations in one circulating strain which has made the new virus more transmissible. The first recent case of Monkeypox in the United States was diagnosed in a traveler who returned to Massachusetts from Canada on May 17, 2022.
How It Spreads: Monkeypox is spread by sustained skin-to-skin contact (including both sexual/intimate contact and non-sexual contact) with a person with Monkeypox or, to a lesser extent, contact with contaminated items (e.g., shared towels or linens) are the most significant risk factors associated with transmission. The virus can also spread through respiratory transmission when a person has lesions in their throat or mouth, but this requires prolonged contact and is quite uncommon. Persons are contagious until all skin lesions are healed and replaced by normal skin. While there are certain communities over-represented in this current outbreak, any person, irrespective of gender identity or sexual orientation, can acquire and spread Monkeypox.
Symptoms: Monkeypox symptoms often starts with flu-like symptoms; fever, swollen lymph glands, headache, and muscle aches. Later a characteristic rash develops into firm, deep-seated, and raised blister-like lesions. The rash progresses through sequential stages (flat lesions, raised solid lesions, blisters with clear fluid, blisters with thicker yellowish fluid, and scabs). The rash can be diffuse or limited to one area of the body. Sometimes it starts in the mouth or the genitals. Most infected people have a relatively mild illness that typically resolves on its own in 2-4 weeks.
Prevention: At this time, given the limited supply of vaccines, prevention is the best medicine. Avoiding skin-to-skin and close contact with individuals who are sick is very important. Open communication with friends and partners if one or the other is feeling sick and then avoiding close contact will help to prevent not only monkeypox, but other infectious illnesses as well.
This CDC page contains suggestions on prevention methods during sex and social gatherings.
Treatment and Vaccination: For any students concerned about a Monkeypox infection due to symptoms or contact with someone infected with monkeypox, please call the Student Health Center to speak with one of our clinicians. Most people with Monkeypox infection do not need antiviral treatment, but can get supportive care to help ease the discomfort associated with it. In the unusual circumstance of severe illness or illness in someone with immune compromise, treatment is often given using an antiviral pill or an injection of anti-viral antibodies. Vaccine is typically given to persons exposed to Monkeypox and is currently available through the Delaware County of Department of Health. Currently, the vaccine is available through the Delaware County Department of Health for persons at high risk of infection and complications of infection.
The response to this outbreak is evolving. Recommendations and availability of testing, anti-viral treatments, and vaccines are likely to change frequently. The Student Health Center will coordinate with the Delaware County Department of Health for the most current information and resources available in the community to help provide individualized care to all Swarthmore students.