Weekly Newsletter

What to know about Mpox exposure, vaccination and treatment

Mpox is neither as contagious nor as deadly as Covid-19—and vaccines and treatment target it. But you should still stay alert. Learn why.
A masked, exhausted woman covered in mud stares intensely at the camera against a backdrop of muddy, artistic swirls on a white wall

OK, the good-ish news? Mpox is neither as contagious nor as deadly as Covid-19. And we have vaccines + treatment options that target it. But there are plenty of reasons to be informed + stay alert. So this week, we’ve got everything you need to know about Mpox right now + historical pandemic treatments that we’re thankful no longer exist. Let’s get started with…

  • The Checkup: balancing virus stress + wellness tips
  • Another virus: Mpox 101 + fascinating prior plagues
  • Covid-19: masking efficacy + long Covid + pets (!)

The Check-Up: 

The history of Mpox

A color photo at sunset, where three buff men in hiking exercise clothes stand looking looking at the sunset over the water, their arms around and on each other.

Origin story: Discovered in 1958 in a Denmark animal facility, the first human infection was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when it was given the name monkeypox. In rural areas of Africa, close proximity to animals has caused outbreaks. A recent clashing of events moved the virus global, and the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency in August of 2022.

What’s in a name? Monkeypox plays into historical stereotypes about Black and African people. It wrongly implies that only primates spread it. And it infers that the illness is primarily an African disease—which encourages stereotypes while denying the most affected nations the resources they need.

While changing the name was up for debate for much of the initial US outbreak, the CDC officially changed it to Mpox in November, 2022.

(Editor's note: We originally published this newsletter using the term "monkeypox "as designated by the CDC, and have updated this article following the change.)

How it travels: Researchers have found the virus in saliva, urine, feces and semen. Anyone can get Mpox through prolonged contact with an infected person's skin, scabs, or bodily fluids during kissing, cuddling or sex—though it’s not considered a specific STD. Fetuses can get the virus via the placenta. And while rare, touching fabric exposed to rashes or bodily fluids can transmit it, too.

Unlike Covid-19, Mpox is only contagious during active infection—it incubates for 1-2 weeks and becomes contagious when symptoms present.

Symptoms: Signature symptoms are sores on the body and face that look like blisters or pimples. They’re itchy and especially painful around the mouth and genitals. Fevers, chills, headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue are common, too.

Timeline + Mortality: Active infection ranges from 2-4 weeks—so quarantine can last a month. The death rate in Africa ranges from 1-10% but the global outbreak is (so far) much lower. Risk is highest in young children and adults who are immunocompromised or pregnant.

Stigma: 98% of initial 2022 infections are amongst men who have sex with men—but this is because of how the cards have fallen and not about who can get sick. The recent outbreaks trace to raves in Spain and Belgium where close proximity, skin-to-skin contact and sex spurred transmission.

This community needs to be centered in healthcare outreach. But health officials worry the statistic will foster stigmatization that proved deadly during the AIDS crisis.

What to do if you've been exposed to Mpox

A closeup photo of a doctor with gloved hands injecting a syringe with the mpox vaccine and a blurred patient on an exam table in the background.

Mpox is in the same genus as (globally eradicated) smallpox. So tests, vaccines and antiviral treatments exist. But national access is slow going. If you think you are at risk, here’s what to do:

  • Get vaccinated: Two vaccines help prevent infection + work a few days after exposure. Nationally, you’re eligible for a vaccine if you’ve recently been in close contact with an infected person, have dermatitis or eczema or are immunocompromised. Adult men in New York who have had multiple sex partners in the last 2 weeks are eligible, too. Supplies are limited, so look to your local department of health for guidance.
  • Get tested: You can get tested only when suspected sores present themselves. Go to your doctor, an urgent care center or sexual health clinic. They’ll swab a sample, and lab results usually return within 3 days.
  • Talk to your doctor: Your doctor may prescribe medications for severe pain or if you have trouble swallowing or defecating. Get open sores tested for bacterial infection. And if you have a severe infection or are immunocompromised, your doctor may prescribe the antivirals Tecovirimat or Brincidofovir.
  • Take care of yourself: Mpox infections are active until lesions crust over. Use Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen to reduce pain and fevers. Stay extra hydrated. A warm bath with colloidal oatmeal or Epsom salts can relieve itchiness—bandage sores after to prevent further spread. Avoid contact with pets—they can get Mpox, too! And if you need to be around others, cover your skin + wear a mask.

Pandemic history for book nerds

An young black woman with an afro sits on a shady window sill reading a book

If pandemic fatigue + Mpox are testing your calm core, maybe diving into history will offer perspective? These page-turners honor those lost to past pandemics + remind us how far healthcare has come.

The latest: pandemic

‘The next public health disaster in the making’: Studies offer new pieces of long Covid puzzle (CNN). 12.7% of infections may lead to long Covid, creating 23 million patients in the U.S. alone. To address this new public health disaster, 14 government departments + agencies are developing a whole-government approach to prevent, detect and treat it. Read above for details and head to HHS.gov for official reports.

How many animal species have caught COVID? First global tracker has (partial) answers (NPR). Remember when we mildly worried about pets getting Covid-19? New (limited) data confirms Covid has infected 27 species across 39 countries. Animals can feel sick or die from it. And while uncommon, they can spread it to humans. Animals like deer could also create “reservoirs” that hold + foster mutations, spurring outbreaks. Great.

Study shows probability of getting COVID for mask wearers vs. non-mask wearers (News Medical). A new report analyzing masking efficacy found that in community settings, only 6% of mask wearers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 compared to 83% of non-maskers. In community + healthcare settings, 92% of masked subjects tested negative. Not yet peer-reviewed, researchers hope the findings will encourage further studies.

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