Monkeypox Brings up Fear, Memories of Covid-19

Gabriel Whitehead, Editor in Chief

After more than two years of lockdowns, masks, and social distancing to prevent COVID-19, another disease has gained much recognition: monkeypox.


Monkeypox has begun to spread at a rapid rate through infected individuals traveling internationally. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 59,179 monkeypox cases have been reported globally in 102 countries since January 1, 2022.


The U.S currently is the global leader in infections. In total, there have been more than 21,000 reported cases since the month of May.


Heather Mullins is a Regional Epidemiologist with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. She has worked within the Health Department for 16 years and has been carefully monitoring the spread of monkeypox.


“Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by a virus,” Mullins said. “It is similar to smallpox but is much less severe when compared to smallpox. Monkeypox has been around for quite some time.”


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, middle school students are much more aware of diseases. Many students are worried about monkeypox.


“Monkeypox is a disease similar to chickenpox, it gives you rashes,” eighth grade student Isaiah Franklin said.


The main sign that someone has monkeypox is a specific rash that could be located on any part of the body unlike chickenpox.


“This rash progresses through various stages before it scabs over and falls off,” Mullins said. “Once all the rash scabs fall off, then an individual is considered to no longer be able to transmit the virus to someone else.”


It can take 2 to 4 weeks from the time the rash forms to when the scabs fall off.


“There are other symptoms that can occur prior to the rash forming or even after the rash has formed,” Mullins said. “These symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle aches, backache, headache, or respiratory symptoms.”


The first human case of Monkeypox took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in West Africa in 1970. It was originally spread through household pets.


“Prior to the 2022 outbreak of monkeypox, there had been very few cases within the United States,” Mullins said. “In 2003, there were 47 cases reported from six states within the U.S.  Each of these cases had exposure to pet prairie dogs.”


The first outbreak in the U.S sparked more to come, as monkeypox reappeared in 2021.


“Many of the initial monkeypox cases within the U.S. had reported international travel in the 21 days prior to their onset of symptoms,” Mullins said. “These individuals had visited countries that do not normally experience cases of monkeypox. While traveling, many of the U.S. cases had participated in large festivals and other activities where close, personal, skin-to-skin contact likely occurred.”


Once enough people brought the disease to the U.S., the community began to transmit monkeypox without international travel.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are concerned about any disease outbreak. Monkeypox, however, is rarely deadly.


“Monkeypox seems equally scary as any other disease or virus we have been in contact with,” eighth grade student Riley Sigmon said.


He believes Monkeypox is a somewhat scary thing due to the recent outbreak of Covid-19.


“From what we have learned from those that have been diagnosed with monkeypox, the rash can be very painful,” Mullins said. “Monkeypox can become a very serious illness for those that have weakened immune systems due to other health issues.”


Monkeypox is also less infectious than COVID-19.


“In order to contract monkeypox, someone would have to have prolonged, close or intimate contact with someone currently experiencing symptoms of monkeypox or by touching/sharing objects that have been used by someone with Monkeypox.”


The CDC and other public health officials have advised people to avoid close contact with infected people, avoid objects which have been used by an infected person and make sure to wash their hands and stay clean.


The actual likelihood of someone in Tennessee getting monkeypox has been increasing at a rapid rate. As of mid-August, there have been over 100 cases in Tennessee, with less than five in East Tennessee. So far, there have been no cases in Sullivan County.


There’s also a new vaccine called JYNNEOS which helps slow down the effects of Monkeypox. Not everybody, however, can get this vaccine.


“The CDC and the Tennessee Department of Health have established eligibility criteria based on those that the data suggest are at highest risk for contracting Monkeypox,” Mullins said.


Mullins also cautions people about using social media as a source of information about diseases.


“There is a lot of miscommunicated and false information throughout most social media platforms,” she said. “Always go to reputable sources in order to find factual, scientific-based information, especially when you are researching anything to do with your health and wellbeing. There is a wealth of information located on the CDC website, WHO site and also the Tennessee Department of Health website.”