Cases of monkeypox virus remain rare, but public health officials continue to monitor the ongoing multi-country outbreak.

These are examples of monkeypox rashes provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its website. Credit: Photo courtesy of NHS England High Consequence Infectious Diseases Network

The infectious disease, similar to smallpox, can cause symptoms including fever, aches and swollen lymph nodes, followed by a bumpy rash, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On June 7, Texas health officials reported the state’s first case of monkeypox, identified in a Dallas County resident who had recently traveled internationally. As of Monday, there are more than 1,600 monkeypox cases confirmed in 35 countries, including 64 in the United States. None of those cases have been reported in El Paso or neighboring cities.

While monkeypox is spreading, public health officials say the illness presents a low risk to the general public and is unlikely to start a second pandemic.

Where did monkeypox come from?

Several species of mammals, mostly rodents and primates, can carry the disease. While researchers first detected the disease in laboratory monkeys, scientists suspect animal-to-human transmission originated with infected rodents.

The first known human infection of monkeypox was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. Sporadic outbreaks have been reported over the years, with most cases reported in central and western Africa.

Beginning in May 2022, the World Health Organization announced that clusters of monkeypox were reported in countries where the disease is not regularly found, with the highest number of cases reported in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal.

Should I be worried about monkeypox?

Short answer: No.

“Of all the things people need to worry about right now, that’s not on the list,” said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist based in El Paso. “This isn’t something to lose sleep over.”

Monkeypox is rarely fatal in places with adequate health care. The odds of contracting the disease is “almost zero” and even if a person does contract it, they are unlikely to land in the emergency room, Alozie said.

As long as public health officials are monitoring the monkeypox situation, Alozie encourages the general public to turn their attention to more urgent health concerns, such as making a blood donation to help alleviate the national blood shortage, or getting healthier before cold and flu season starts in the fall.

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox can transmit from infected animals to humans, but the recent outbreak has spread primarily human-to-human through intimate contact, WHO officials say.

People can become infected with monkeypox through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs or bodily fluids, particularly during sex, though it is not a sexually transmitted infection. People can also get monkeypox through contact with contaminated bedsheets.

It can take one to two weeks after infection for symptoms to appear. Within a few days or more of fever, the monkeypox patient can develop a rash that turns into pus-filled bumps, which eventually scab and fall off. Most patients recover from the illness in two to four weeks without treatment.

Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?

Yes. In 2019 the United States approved Jynneos, a vaccine for use against monkeypox and smallpox in high-risk adults aged 18 and older.

CDC officials say the United States is ramping up its national stockpile of Jynneos, focusing distribution to high-risk individuals such as health care workers and others who’ve been in close contact with monkeypox patients.

Monkeypox is considered a mild illness. While most symptoms resolve on their own, children younger than eight and immunocompromised people may be at higher risk for more severe symptoms.

I have an unexplained, itchy new rash. Could it be monkeypox?

Maybe, but regardless, you should get it checked out immediately. It might be chickenpox, which has similar symptoms. Or molluscum, a common skin infection also caused by a poxvirus and spread through physical contact. Rashes from monkeypox and sexual transmitted infections, such as syphilis, can also look similar.

People who have been exposed to monkeypox should monitor for symptoms in the next 21 days, and isolate right away if they develop a fever or rash. The CDC recommends patients with monkeypox to isolate at home until all scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed.

For more information about monkeypox, visit the CDC website.

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...