What does it mean that monkeypox is a health emergency?

The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency on August 4. The infection continues to spread. To date there are a total of 6,617 confirmed cases, but the number changes rapidly.

The emergency declaration is basically an administrative measure that allows the federal government to mobilize funds for vaccination and campaigns, among other initiatives. And send money to states with less bureaucratic processes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health emergency in July. As of August 4, some 26,000 cases had been confirmed globally.

A survey in July found that one in five Americans fear being infected with the virus that causes monkeypox, although many admitted knowing little about the infection.

The same survey revealed that there is confusion in the population about whether or not monkeypox is similar to COVID-19.

Monkeypox: what is it, history

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that the Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys used for research.

The first human case of monkeypox was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), during a period of intensified efforts to eliminate smallpox.

Since then, cases of monkeypox have been reported in people from several other West and Central African countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone.

Most infections continue to occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The ongoing outbreak represents the first time that monkeypox has appeared in countries where it is not endemic.


The natural reservoir for monkeypox is unknown. However, African rodents and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys) can carry the virus and infect people.

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The curious thing is that, as far as is known, monkeypox is transmitted from the infected animal to the human, the transmission from person to person is unusual. That is why the second hypothesis is that there are animals carrying the virus on this side of the ocean.

In fact, in a previous outbreak in 2003, about 50 people contracted the virus after several animals became infected from a shipment of animals from Ghana to Illinois.

Humans contracted the infection through contact with prairie dogs in several central and western states.

Monkeypox is a disease that is not usually serious, but it is unpleasant.


The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of the flu:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands

However, there is a big difference: the person infected with the virus that causes monkeypox develops blisters on the hands, arms and legs, and even on other parts of the body such as the back.

Similar to what happened with smallpox (eradicated from the world in the 1980s thanks to vaccination), these pustules are first small and then enlarge and fill with pus. They can itch, and take weeks to go away. Once they go away, the person is no longer contagious

Although monkeypox is usually a mild illness, complications can include pneumonia, vision loss, and sepsis, or a generalized infection that can be life-threatening.


Monkeypox or monkeypox spreads in different ways. Viruses can be spread from one person to another through the following:

  • direct contact with the rash, scabs, or infectious body fluids.
  • respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sexual intercourse.
  • contact with items (such as clothing or bedding) that previously came into contact with the rash or infectious body fluids.
  • pregnant people can transmit the virus to the fetus through the placenta.
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Infection can also occur through intimate contact, including:

  • Oral, anal, and vaginal sex or touching the genitals (penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or the anus (anus) of a person with monkeypox.
  • Hugs, massages and kisses.
  • Prolonged face-to-face contact.
  • Touching fabrics and objects during sexual intercourse that were used by a person with monkeypox and have not been disinfected, such as bedding, towels, fetish items, and sex toys.

It is also possible for people to get monkeypox or monkeypox from infected animals, either by receiving a scratch or bite from the animal, or by preparing or eating meat from an infected animal or using products made from an infected animal.

However, in this new outbreak there have been cases of infections linked to men who have sex with men, which, emphasizes the WHO, does not make it a sexually transmitted disease. This is an unusual way of contracting the virus, and dozens of cases have already been reported in heterosexual people. In fact, this outbreak seems to be associated with increased person-to-person transmission, a form that, again, is not the usual one.

Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms begin until the rash has completely healed and a new layer of skin has formed. The illness usually lasts 2 to 4 weeks.

People who do not have symptoms of monkeypox cannot spread the virus to others. At this time, it is unknown if monkeypox can be spread through semen or vaginal secretions.

Prevention and treatment

The best prevention is not to come into contact with wild animals, and to isolate the patient. Of course, hand washing is essential.

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Also avoid close or intimate contact with people if symptoms occur.

If the person has monkeypox, they should be isolated.

Currently, there is no safe and proven treatment for monkeypox virus infection. To control an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immunoglobulin (VIG) can be used.

As in so many other viral infections, attention to symptoms and rest help the immune system to work and expel the virus.

The The infection cycle lasts about two to four weeks. In Africa, it is fatal in one in 10 people who get it.


Smallpox vaccination can protect against monkeypox, and can be used in high-risk contacts as preventive treatment after exposure.

Although smallpox is an infection eradicated more than four decades ago, many countries have maintained stocks of these vaccines to deal with outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa, and because there are dozens of viruses in the same family against which they can be used.

There are two vaccines available to protect people against monkeypox, Jynneos and ACAM2000. US federal government health officials are prioritizing the supply of Jynneos, given in two doses 28 days apart, because it has fewer side effects and can be used in immunocompromised people; unlike ACAM2000.

There are also at least three antiviral drugs used against this virus that are currently available in the United States.

As always, it is necessary to consult immediately with the doctor, who will make the diagnosis. And, as with most viruses, rest, staying hydrated and avoiding stress help the body do its job and expel the virus.

Sources: CDC, NIH, WHO, HealthDay News and news agencies.

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