We’ve Learned from COVID-19, We Can Beat Monkeypox Early On
For only the seventh time in history, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on July 23 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – this time on the current monkeypox outbreak that is spreading around the world rapidly.
Since 1970 monkeypox has been causing illness and death in large numbers for decades in Africa. But no deaths of monkeypox have been reported outside of Africa where there has been very little spread. But for the first time ever, this 2022 outbreak of monkeypox has spread globally and health experts are still uncertain why this is happening, and what changed.
While death by monkeypox is considered rare, it happens regularly in Africa. It’s a serious infectious disease that can have severe symptoms, and in some cases, require hospitalization usually due to pain management.
Since COVID-19, there also must be in consideration economic impact of infectious diseases. With monkeypox requiring a 2-4 weeks period of recovery and most likely isolation, catching monkeypox potentially could have a serious financial impact; and in extreme circumstances could lead to job loss just for being unable to work for weeks.
Should monkeypox spread anywhere near the numbers of a pandemic – which is unlikely based on what we know of it now, health expert say – clearly the economic impact could be profound.
Jumpstart at combatting monkeypox
Hopefully with early awareness and from what we’ve already learned from COVID-19, public health experts and government should have a much more efficient and prepared response to monkeypox.
There already are some advantages. Unlike at COVID-19’s time of outbreak, there is currently available an antiviral drug. Because monkeypox belongs to the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox, the same vaccine used to treat smallpox is already available to treat monkeypox infections.
The U.S. government has two stockpiled vaccines—JYNNEOS and ACAM2000—that can prevent monkeypox in people who are exposed to the virus.
But the bad news is that these drugs are very short in supply which is one reason the monkeypox vaccine is only available to select populations. The current targeted immunization of groups most vulnerable and affected by monkeypox is a smart move until inventory improves for these drugs (and other drugs in the works).
Another advantage of monkeypox is that it is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19. And when people have monkeypox, there most likely are aware of it due to the symptoms, specifically rash that will typically develop.
Health officials also have data tracking, case detection and contract tracing models for infectious disease down to a science in most communities because of COVID-19. However, in order for these models to be applied to monkeypox, there must be public health funding.
Even though resources are thin in this area, and that COVID-19 is still a major public health concern requiring ongoing funding, politicians and public experts clearly must realize how critical it is to control monkeypox before it escalates and gets out of hand.
Many have already criticized the lax attention given to monkeypox and believe the window has closed to stop community spread.
Health experts say we can learn from another infectious disease in AIDS. Like AIDS, monkeypox at this onset is mostly spread within the gay community or men who have sex with other men. Also, like AIDS, monkeypox has mostly been found to be sexually transmissible, even though health experts say, sex is only one way to get monkeypox. It can be spread by close nonsexual contact, by infected materials or objects, and by large respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact.
Just sharing a bed with someone who is infected or by sharing items like towels or unwashed clothing could lead to someone getting monkeypox. So it’s technically easier to catch monkeypox than AIDS.
What can we learn from AIDS? Health experts say by not stigmatizing this transmissible disease as just a gay disease which could prevent people from getting the monkeypox vaccination. And clearly there is a potential for monkeypox to spread to other populations as what eventually occurred with AIDS.
So the messaging should be the fact and science: anyone who has been in close contact with someone with monkeypox is at increased risk of infection, regardless of a person’s gender, sexual orientation, or travel history.
Health experts say monkeypox is quickly spreading and evolving. At this very moment, the State of Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) said risk to most Hawaii residents remains low.
Hawaii has done a phenomenal job relative to the rest of the nation in handling COVID-19. Local officials must do more of the same with regard to combatting monkeypox. Diagnostics, vaccines and treatment for monkeypox – we already have them. Local public health officials need to ensure that the limited supply of monkeypox vaccines we already have must be distributed equitably and efficiently. Those who can receive the monkeypox vaccination, should do so. Let’s work together on beating monkeypox early.