by Dr. Azra Behlim
Vizient Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services

Just this week, the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency, which may lead you to wonder how it compares to other infectious diseases and what your own personal risk is of catching the disease. 

Below are four questions and answers that dive into what this virus is and what it means for you.   

1. What is monkeypox and why is it named monkeypox? 

Monkeypox may have a funny name, but it is no laughing matter. Monkeypox is a viral disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It can spread from animals to humans and can also spread between people. The disease is called monkeypox because it was first identified in colonies of monkeys kept for research in 1958. It was later detected in humans in 1970. Monkeypox has typically been found in Central and West Africa; however, there has been an increase in confirmed cases happening in more countries around the world. Most recently, outbreaks have been reported within Europe and North America.   

The epidemiology of the monkeypox virus has been rapidly changing over the years. The incidence rate of the virus previously was quite low.  Between 2005 and 2007, the average annual incidence of confirmed monkeypox was 5.53 per 10,000 people, ranging from 2.18 to 14.42 per 10,000 people.  

2. How is monkeypox similar or different from Chickenpox? 

Many Americans today may remember a time in their childhood where they had chickenpox caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Prior to the vaccine that came out in 1995, it was a common, highly contagious disease, and the symptoms generally took up to 16 days to appear. And although it was uncomfortable for about 1-2 weeks, it was usually a simple recovery with common treatments such as calamine lotion and oatmeal baths used to help with itching. 

Monkeypox is caused by the orthopoxvirus. Although the initial symptoms of illness are similar to those of chickenpox, monkeypox symptoms usually last longer, ranging between two to four weeks. Some strains of the virus can cause severe disease, with recent fatality recorded at 3-6 percent, according to the World Health Organization.  

The main difference is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy) while chickenpox does not. Monkeypox lesions also typically contain a pus fluid, and the rash can spread to the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.  

Monkeypox is diagnosed through lab testing where a swab of the rash is taken. 

3. What is my risk of monkeypox? 

While this virus originated from monkeys, you don’t have to be around monkeys, or anywhere near them, to catch it. 

Monkeypox can spread when a person comes into physical contact with another infected individual. Clothing, bedding, towels or eating utensils and dishes that have been contaminated with the virus can also infect other people. 

The virus can also spread from a pregnant mother to the fetus through the placenta. Children are also typically more prone to severe symptoms than adolescents and adults. Healthcare workers, household members, and sexual partners of an infected person are also at a greater risk for infection because they are often in closer contact with infected individuals.  

Monkeypox is also spread through infected animals, including monkeys and rodents. To reduce the risk of catching monkeypox from animals, avoid unprotected contact with wild animals, especially those that are sick or dead.  

4. Should I get vaccinated?  

It is great to get vaccinated against preventable diseases whenever the opportunity arises. However, there is currently a limited supply of vaccines used to prevent monkeypox. The CDC currently recommends that healthcare workers who care for infected patients, laboratory workers who study the monkeypox virus, and those who are at high risk for occupational exposure to the virus should receive the monkeypox vaccine. 

There is currently only one vaccine, JYNNEOS®, that is FDA approved for monkeypox.  

Because the monkeypox virus is closely related to the variola virus that causes the now-eradicated smallpox, previous data from Africa shows that smallpox vaccines are at least 85% effective at preventing monkeypox when given prior to exposure to monkeypox. However, due to limited data and the potential for side effects, the CDC and the FDA are only allowing the smallpox vaccines to be used for monkeypox on a limited basis. 

As with any emerging disease, new information is available every day. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, such as a fever accompanied with a rash, seek medical attention and testing. Testing may not be available at every health facility, so be sure to call ahead and inquire if monkeypox testing is available on site.  

In the meantime, be aware of any settings where your personal risk may increase, including at public events with large crowds, locations where you may be interacting with wildlife, and in areas where you may be in close contact with infected individuals.

About the author: Dr. Azra Behlim is the Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services at Vizient. In her current role, she has responsibility for brand & specialty pharmaceuticals, vaccines, Rx technology, as well as all Pharmacy program services. She also leads the Vizient COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce. 

Behlim holds a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy from Midwestern University and an MBA from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. 

Published: August 9, 2022