Monkeypox Outbreak and COVID-19: Microbiology Expert Details Key Differences

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During the past few weeks, outbreaks of monkeypox have sprung up around Europe and the United States. Monkeypox is a disease that is most commonly found in Africa, and its symptoms include a fever, headache, exhaustion and a rash that turns into lesions that spread throughout the body. It is primarily spread through an infected person’s body fluids and items that have come into contact with the body fluids of someone infected with monkeypox. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reversed their earlier stance on the need for wearing masks in order to prevent the spread of monkeypox. The reason for that was stated to be in order to avoid confusion on the prevention and transmission of monkeypox, which can be spread through respiratory fluids during prolonged contact with someone who is infected. So far, it has spread to Washington, Texas, California, New York and several other states. As that continues, fears about the disease will continue to grow, especially as people remember how the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic played out during February and March of 2020.

Dr. Reza Farough, a microbiology teacher at Bellevue College, had his own thoughts to share about monkeypox. During his career as a researcher, he researched viruses, including monkeypox for a short period of time. When he was asked what about the recent monkeypox outbreaks most concerned him, he brought up how his main concern was how fears and misinformation about monkeypox were likely to cause panic about outbreaks of disease among people who remembered the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The thing he found least concerning was the dangers of monkeypox, since monkeypox is a disease that has existed and was thus researched far longer than COVID-19. He said that “We have very good tools to manage [monkeypox] that we didn’t have with COVID-19.” Specifically, there is a vaccine that is effective against monkeypox and there is an effective antiviral drug. He believes that because those tools exist, monkeypox can be controlled and managed. 

Going from this interview, Dr. Farough suggested that people learn more about monkeypox, and know the early signs and symptoms of monkeypox so that they can seek medical attention. In particular, people should watch out for a fever, swollen lymph nodes and rashes that start out red and bumpy and then progress into lesions filled with fluid, which later burst. The good news is that monkeypox viruses multiply slowly, meaning that it is still possible to get treated with a vaccine even 5-6 days after getting infected. 

Finally, people can keep themselves safe by understanding how monkeypox is spread. Monkeypox is spread through coming into contact with the bodily fluids of infected people and items that have come into contact with those bodily fluids, but it can also be spread by exotic animals such as Gambian rats and prairie dogs in the United States, such as during the 2003 monkeypox outbreak. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that monkeypox is not COVID-19, and that means that the outbreaks will not be the same. This is not a repeat of February and March of 2020.