WASHINGTON, D.C.—Emergency physicians are watching closely for people who show symptoms consistent with monkeypox, a virus the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared a global public health emergency.
“Monkeypox is rarely fatal, but symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable,” said Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “It is concerning that monkeypox is spreading around the world, but most of the current cases have not required hospitalization. Emergency physicians are ready to help contain the spread of this largely treatable and preventable virus.”
Monkeypox symptoms can include:
- A rash that looks like pimples or blisters on the face, in the mouth, hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
Anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox should talk to their physician about whether they need to get tested for the virus. Monkeypox typically lasts two to four weeks and is contagious from the start of symptoms until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus.
Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with infectious rashes, scabs, or exchange of saliva or bodily fluid. It can also be caught from intimate physical contact, kissing, cuddling or sex with a person who has the virus. People can get the virus from contact with infected animals. Eating insufficiently cooked meat of an infected animal may also be a risk factor.
To prevent monkeypox, avoid skin-to-skin contact with people who have the virus. Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person with monkeypox, and do not share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox. Do not touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox. Those sick with monkeypox should isolate at home and stay in separate rooms away from people or pets.
While there is no specific monkeypox treatment, the virus is part of the smallpox family of viruses, and it can be prevented and treated with vaccines and antiviral medicines used for smallpox.
ACEP has created a monkeypox field guide for its emergency physician members who may encounter infected patients. The guide includes best practices for identification and treatment, protective equipment, specimen collection, isolation procedures, and other clinical concerns.
“Emergency physicians are on the frontlines for public health emergencies and that includes all types of infectious viruses,” said Dr. Schmitz. “We train for these circumstances, and we are on alert for patients who have rashes or illness consistent with monkeypox.”