A new virus is spreading around Tampa Bay, reminiscent of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But monkeypox is very different from the coronavirus. Here’s what we know about the recent global crisis epidemic, which the World Health Organization recently declared a global emergency.
What is monkey pox?
Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa, is a viral illness similar to smallpox but milder that usually lasts two to four weeks.
Since mid-May, the virus has been spreading around the world, especially in Europe and the United States.
Monkeypox is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from infected animals to humans. It can also be passed from person to person through the rash or scabs of an infected person during kissing, sex, or other skin contact.
Mouth ulcers can be infectious, which means the virus can also be spread through respiratory droplets, according to the World Health Organization.
During the current global outbreak, scientists believe the virus is mainly transmitted through sexual activity, although it is still unclear whether it can be spread through semen or vaginal secretions.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that looks like pimples or blisters on the face, inside the mouth, or on the hands , feet, chest, genitals or anus.
Sometimes patients will only have one genital ulcer, which means monkeypox can be mistaken for herpes or syphilis.
How many cases are there in Tampa Bay?
Pinellas County has had 16 cases, according to state data as of Thursday. Hillsborough County has diagnosed eight infections. Cases have more than doubled in Hillsborough since the start of last week. No infections have been reported in Pasco County.
Florida has identified 374 cases, with about 75% in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The United States has reported more than 4,900 cases.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get monkeypox, but the vast majority of cases during the current outbreak have been reported in men who have sex with men, health officials say.
Earlier this year, a top World Health Organization adviser told The Associated Press that the global spread may have been caused by sexual transmission at raves in Spain and Belgium.
“Viruses don’t discriminate,” said Luke Johnsen, medical director of Metro Inclusive Health, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness center in the Tampa Bay area. “It just so happened that the spread in Europe (happened) within a certain community.”
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Jonathan Tolentino, a physician and professor at the University of Miami, stressed that monkeypox is “not a homosexual disease in quotes”. It is not a disease unique to the LGBTQ community.
“Did it affect our community first? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it won’t affect other communities,” he said in a recent online discussion hosted by Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights group.
Is monkeypox as dangerous as COVID-19?
The virus is rarely fatal, but symptoms can be extremely painful and cause scarring. About 10% of the more than 18,000 cases worldwide have resulted in hospitalization for pain management.
No deaths have been reported in the United States during the current outbreak. People with weakened immune systems or who suffer from skin conditions such as eczema, young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers may be at higher risk of serious illness or death.
What to do if you have symptoms?
If anyone has symptoms or thinks they have been exposed to monkeypox in Hillsborough or Pinellas, they should call their doctor, according to local health authorities.
Those without a doctor in Hillsborough can call the University Area STD clinic in Tampa.
People without health insurance in Pinellas can call St. Pete’s Free Clinic or federally licensed health centers operated by Evara Health, a health department spokesperson said.
How long should patients self-isolate?
Patients with monkeypox should isolate themselves at home until they no longer have a rash and a new layer of skin has formed, which can take up to a month.
If close contacts do not show symptoms, they do not need to self-quarantine, according to health officials.
Monkeypox testing requires a sample from a lesion. People exposed to the virus who do not have a rash cannot be tested.
What vaccines are available?
The United States Food and Drug Administration has authorized two vaccines that can be used against the virus: ACAM2000 and Jynneos (also known as Imvamune or Imvanex). ACAM2000 is not widely distributed and can have serious side effects.
The federal government sends Jynneos to the states. The vaccine, which has a two-dose regimen, is freely available to adults. It can be given before or after exposure to monkeypox.
The Jynneos offer is limited nationwide. Florida has received more than 36,000 doses from the federal government.
Metro Inclusive Health received 100 doses from the state last week, Johnsen said.
Who is eligible for a vaccine?
These groups are currently eligible: close contacts of infected persons; laboratory and healthcare workers at high risk of exposure; people who have had multiple sex partners in the last two weeks in an area where there are cases of monkeypox; immunocompromised men who have sex with men living with HIV who might have been exposed to the virus (those with a CD4 white blood cell count of less than 200 per ml³); and men who have sex with men who are HIV-positive or have a history of sexually transmitted diseases who may have been exposed to the virus.
If you want a vaccine, talk to your doctor or call one of the local health departments, Tolentino said.
Will monkeypox become endemic in the United States?
This remains unknown. The answer depends on the public health response, which has been criticized for being too slow.
“It could be endemic for a long time,” said James Lawler, co-director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “The most realistic scenario is that it takes us a year to get this outbreak under control in the United States.”