CHEAT SHEET: Comparing monkeypox to COVID-19
Monkeypox was declared a global health concern over the summer, and on August 19, Alamance County had its first case of monkeypox. This is a disease that the CDC says is spread by physical contact on the monkeypox rash itself, by touching objects that have been used by someone else with monkeypox, or by contact by saliva.
Kevan Schoonover McClelland, professor of biology, shared what this means for students in relation to COVID-19 and how it is transmitted.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
In relation to COVID-19, what are some things students need to be aware of regarding the transmission of Monkeypox?
So the big difference between COVID and monkeypox is that monkeypox appears to require actual physical skin-to-skin contact with the lesion to be transmitted. So the transmissibility is much lower than COVID. And then the other thing is in terms of the severity of the disease, often it won’t be as severe as COVID.
So you might feel bad, and you’re going to get hurt, but I actually looked at the data this morning and the worldwide death rate is less than 1%. In the United States, we have had one reported death out of nearly 25,000 cases. So it’s not as deadly, it’s not as transmissible, and it’s much more treatable, because it’s linked to viruses that we’ve already made, to vaccines, and to treatments. So it’s not as bad as COVID in terms of the severity of everything.
How will this affect the rollout of the vaccine?
I don’t think it’s going to really change much. At present, the guidance is that only high-risk groups should be vaccinated. And that’s mainly with people who have multiple sexual partners, because there’s a lot of physical contact, they’re in regular physical contact and in prolonged physical contact. For the most part most people don’t need to get vaccinated and in terms of the actual treatment they also suggest that unless you’re at risk of having a severe case they don’t really want you to take neither do antivirals, and basically just mount it. Not really a huge thing to worry about, in terms of mass vaccinations. Just being a little smarter about washing your hands, paying attention to your own symptoms. At this time it does not appear to be transmissible unless you actually show the symptoms of the lesions on your skin. And so be very aware of that, and if you have any questions, contact a medical professional.
What does it mean that it has been declared a global pandemic?
I don’t know what the WHO or CDC definition of a global pandemic is, but it’s present in I think 104 countries right now and overall it has a much wider spread than usual. Until this recent wave of infections, it was very localized in the Congo Basin and sub-Saharan Africa because that is where it developed. They think it comes from rodents and non-human primates. So chimpanzees, bonobos, things like that. And then the reason it’s so prevalent now is simply because of all the international travel going on. The fact that a lot of people didn’t know what the symptoms were and so there was a lot of skin-to-skin contact before we really knew what monkeypox looked like. We actually had a monkeypox epidemic in America almost 20 years ago. Because of the infected prairie dogs, someone had prairie dogs as pets. And prairie dogs were housed with other animals. And these animals had monkeypox and it spread to the prairie dogs. And then the prairie dogs gave it to people who had prairie dogs as pets. So it’s not like it didn’t get around, it’s just how widespread it is this time around. It is the novel that is happening. In terms of a pandemic, the definition of a pandemic has to be that there are a certain number of cases that you have to hit in a certain number of countries. But I will say the word pandemic is very scary, but if you actually look at it, in this case it really has to do with the prevalence of the disease and not the severity of the disease. That’s actually true in most cases where the word pandemic doesn’t mean there’s something deadly out there. It just means there are a lot of them and they are everywhere.
Is this something you should be concerned about?
I don’t think they need to worry too much. I’m not 100% sure how many cases North Carolina has had. I remember there were a few cases in Greensboro at one point, but as long as you wash your hands regularly. To be completely honest, the majority of transmission in the United States is between gay men through sexual contact, and therefore simply by being aware of how many people you come into contact with and being aware of your own symptoms. And what the symptoms of monkeypox actually look like. Just be aware, but it’s not a big thing to worry about now.
You’ll likely be out of class for three to five weeks, as that’s usually the time it takes for the lesions to go away, and you’re contagious until the lesions are completely healed. So you wouldn’t be out of class, but in terms of the long term health effects, it looks like the prospects are very good in terms of recovery and getting back to normal.