Epidemiologist Answers Common Monkeypox Questions

Monkeypox, a viral disease with outbreaks spreading in the U.S. and Europe, is posing a lot of questions. WIRED spoke with epidemiologist Dr. Danielle Ompad to answer some of the most common questions about monkeypox. What does it look like? How does it spread? How do you test for it? Is there a vaccine?Director: Maya DangerfieldEditor: Kelso HarperExpert: Dr. Danielle OmpadLine Producer: Joseph BuscemiAssociate Producer: Samantha VélezProduction Manager: Eric MartinezProduction Coordinator: Fernando DavilaPost Production Supervisor: Alexa DeutschPost Production Coordinator: Ian BryantSupervising Editor: Doug LarsenAssistant Editor: Diego RentschSpecial Thanks: @DrCharlesMD1, @grace_oliviat1d, @kokofaceyoga

Video Transcript

- [Narrator] Monkeypox, a viral disease with major outbreaks spreading in the US and Europe, is posing a lot of questions.

So Wired spoke with epidemiologists, Dr. Danielle Ompad to learn more about the look, spread and treatment of monkeypox.

The biggest question people are asking is what does monkeypox look like?

- The first lesions that you will probably see are flat and red, and they can be on the face and spread to the arms and the legs, your hands and feet.

Now I will say during this outbreak we have seen that people have fewer lesions than they have in previous outbreaks.

- [Narrator] The rash which usually accompanies flu-like symptoms begins first as flat and red.

Then it turns into raised in red.

Then pimple like bumps and finally scabs.

Sometimes the flu-like symptoms appear before or after the rash, but for some the rash is their only symptom.

- It can look different, depending on your pigment but essentially the features like flat bumps to raise bumps to pustules, to the scabs that is going to be consistent.

And it's the color may change.

- [Narrator] If you have monkeypox how long are you contagious?

- You are contagious for as long as you have the rash until the scabs fall off and new skin forms over where the scabs are.

That could be two weeks or longer depending on how long it takes you to heal.

- [Narrator] So what type of virus are we dealing with?

- Monkeypox is an Ortohopoxvirus that's related to smallpox and vaccinia virus.

Vaccinia virus is actually the virus that is used in the vaccines for smallpox and monkeypox.

It definitely causes less severe disease than smallpox.

- [Narrator] How does this virus spread?

- Monkeypox spreads in different ways.

It can be spread person to person through direct contact with infectious rash, scabs or body fluids, intimate physical contacts, such as kissing or cuddling or sex, whether or not there is penetration.

And it can also be transmitted by touching items like clothing or linens that previously touch the infectious rash or body fluids.

And then pregnant people can also spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

- [Narrator] How can we reduce our risk of getting monkeypox?

- In terms of protecting yourself you might want to think strategically about being in close contact with people with skin to skin contact, you don't want to kiss cuddle or have sex with somebody who has monkeypox and you wanna avoid contact with objects and materials that a person with monkeypox has used.

You don't wanna share eating utensils or cups and you should wash your hands.

I mean, we should be doing that anyways but you definitely wanna make sure that you're washing your hands especially before eating or touching your face.

If you, as an individual, see that you have a rash you're not sure what the rash is but it might look like bug bites.

It might look like chicken pox.

Make sure that you're not in close contact with people and try to prevent spread in case it is monkeypox.

If it starts to be very painful, if it starts to spread you might wanna go to your doctor and be assessed to see if you have monkeypox.

- [Narrator] How do you test for monkeypox?

- In order to test for monkeypox, they require a swab from a lesion.

As soon as you have lesions you can start testing for monkeypox.

So it'll be about a week or two before you could test.

- [Narrator] So who's most likely to get monkeypox?

- Anybody can be infected with monkeypox.

In the current outbreak, the majority of people have been male and they have been gay bisexual or other men who have sex with men.

However, anybody can be infected.

And I need to make that clear because I want people to realize that if they're around people who have the monkeypox rash, they're at risk for infection.

People who are immune compromised are at risk for more severe monkeypox infections, and may also be at risk for complications and even death.

- [Narrator] As the latest public health emergency declaration from the World Health Organization.

Monkeypox has people worried, but unlike the beginning of COVID-19, there are existing treatments in vaccines.

- For most people the treatment options are just to treat the symptoms.

There is a small supply of a drug called TPOXX which is Tecovirimat, it's an FDA approved drug for the treatment of human smallpox disease.

It is not approved for monkeypox but TPOXX has been administered to some people who have more severe cases of monkeypox.

And so that has been used, but not widely.

There are vaccines available.

Jynneos is a live virus vaccine.

It's administered with two shots in the arm about four weeks apart.

And it takes about two weeks after the second dose for you to have maximal immune response there will be quite a bit of cross reactivity for smallpox and monkeypox because the viruses are relatively similar.

So the effectiveness for smallpox was estimated to be relatively high.

And I would anticipate the vaccines will be highly effective for monkeypox as well.