How to protect yourself from monkey pox, what to do if you catch it?

Test tubes labeled “Monkeypox virus positive and negative” can be seen in this image, taken May 23, 2022.

Seen Ruvic | Reuters

A recent outbreak of monkeypox in the US Europe, Australia and the Middle East have baffled health experts and are concerned about a wider outbreak.

On Wednesday, there were 346 confirmed and suspected cases in 22 countries outside Africa, where the virus is endemic, according to Our World in Data.

It marks the first known spread of the virus in the community. Before this outbreak, cases had been linked to travel to regions where the virus is endemic or imported animals carrying the virus.

Most new cases have spread through sex, with a particular concentration in men who have sex with other men. However, the World Health Organization has warned that everyone is at risk of contracting the virus. Children, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals are especially at risk.

“Anyone who has close contact with someone who is contagious is at risk,” a report on the WHO website said Wednesday.

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is part of the same family as smallpox, although it is usually less serious. Vaccinations against smallpox have been shown to be 85% effective against monkeypox.

The WHO said Monday it is unlikely that mass vaccinations will be needed to combat the spike in cases. But given the pace of the outbreak and the lack of clarity about its cause, the public health agency urged people to practice good hygiene and safe sex to control its spread.

Protecting yourself from monkey pox

While health experts agree that the risks to the general public are low, there are several precautions you can take to reduce your risk of being infected with the virus.

Recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UK National Health Service and the WHO include:

  • Avoid contact with people who have been recently diagnosed with the virus or with people who may be infected.
  • Wear a face mask if you are in close contact with someone who has symptoms.
  • Use condoms and watch for symptoms if you have recently changed sexual partners.
  • Avoid contact with animals that may be carriers of the virus. This includes sick or dead animals and especially animals with a history of infection, such as monkeys, rodents and prairie dogs.
  • Practice good hand hygiene, especially after coming into contact with infected – or suspected infected – animals or people. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Use personal protective equipment when caring for patients with confirmed or suspected monkeypox infection.

This 2003 electron microscope image, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and globular immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the prairie dog outbreak in 2003.

Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner | CDC via AP

Monkeypox can also be transmitted through surfaces and materials, so it is wise not to touch materials that have come into contact with a sick person or animal.

“This is a virus that is super stable outside of the human host, so it can live on objects like blankets and the like,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, Monday.

“A good practice would be to regularly wash clothes and bedding at a high temperature,” Emmanuel Andre, a professor of medicine at Belgium’s Ku Leuven University, told CNBC on Wednesday.

However, he said he did not see the need for the general public to avoid public areas, taxis, shops and hotels.

“The general population doesn’t need to take many more precautions than in ordinary life,” he said. “If people are in the at-risk population, who they know are in a high-risk environment, then they need to take extra precautions.”

What to do if you get monkey pox?

If you suspect that you have contracted monkeypox, you should isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek medical advice immediately.

The first symptoms of monkey pox are fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling and back pain. Rashes and lesions then usually appear on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth, or genitals within one to five days. That rash turns into raised bumps and then blisters, which can fill with white fluid before breaking and crusting over.

This handout from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the symptoms of one of the first known cases of monkeypox virus on a patient’s hand on May 27, 2003.

CDC | Getty Images

However, many of the virus’s symptoms can be easily confused with other illnesses, such as chickenpox, herpes, or syphilis, so medical confirmation is important.

If you are diagnosed with Monkeypox, you will need to isolate until the virus is gone. The illness is usually mild and most people recover within two to four weeks.

While medical advice currently varies from country to country, the UK’s National Health Service notes that you may need to stay in a specialist hospital to avoid spreading the infection to other people.

CNBC Health & Science

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Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a contributor to CNBC and serves on the boards of directors of Pfizer, the genetic testing start-up Tempus, the healthcare technology company Aetion Inc. and the biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.

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