According to available information, the monkeypox virus is not as severe or as deadly as either COVID-19 or smallpox. But last week, the World Health Organization declared the spread of monkeypox to be a global health emergency, a designation intended to trigger a coordinated international response. Gov. JB Pritzker also declared Illinois to be a disaster area, which his office said will help mobilize resources.
Both actions are reasonable. Unless the states and the nation – and the world – develop a plan for long-range containment, we run the risk of monkeypox becoming another infectious disease we will eventually regret not having done more to contain.
As of earlier last week, Illinois had 520 reported cases, 85% of them in Chicago. The city received 18,707 doses of the Jynneos vaccine directly, while the state got 7,371 – but sent 4,631 of them to Chicago. Jynneos, produced by Bavarian Nordic, is a two-dose vaccine that was approved for monkeypox and smallpox in 2019.
Another 13,000 state doses are expected from the federal government “in the near future.”
Monkeypox will spread all around the state, of course, but right now, it makes sense to put the vaccine where the most cases are. Limiting the ongoing spread will rely on several things, including ramped-up vaccine production, aggressive public health campaigns and extensive education aimed primarily at the most at-risk populations.
The disease, believed to spread through close contact, can cause a variety of symptoms, the most visible being a painful or itchy rash. Right now, the most at-risk people are men who have sex with men. As well, most Americans born after 1972 have never had a smallpox vaccination (routine vaccination in the U.S. ended in 1972, with smallpox eradicated). Reports say that efficacy of the smallpox vaccine that older Americans received fades over time, but it can still help prevent monkeypox contagion.
The monkeypox virus was first observed in lab monkeys in 1958, but scientists have said rodents are likely the main carriers of the virus in the wild. The first human cases were found in Africa in 1970, when the virus was transmitted from infected animals to people who got close to them.
Scientists say at present the risk to the general population is low, and that people are unlikely to contact monkeypox in schools or offices, or on public transit. Unlike COVID-19, there is currently no evidence of airborne transmission. According to a recent New York Times article, people who are immunocompromised may have more severe cases, but monkeypox is rarely fatal.
Our advice: Take monkeypox seriously and educate yourself about the virus. Leave the limited number of Jynneos doses to people most at risk of contacting the virus – but anyone with symptoms should see a doctor quickly.
As in all public health matters, we urge you to use reliable sources of information to stay abreast of the latest developments.
The Daily Herald