Monkeypox is a public health emergency. Here are some ways to put it in perspective. – Grid News


Monkeypox is a public health emergency. Here are some ways to put it in perspective.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated and revised to reflect new information.

Monkeypox is now a global health emergency, says the World Health Organization. As of mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a total of approximately 12,000 cases in the U.S.

The sudden spread of a disease might cause worry, particularly after we’ve all lived through the global covid-19 pandemic. But though there are plenty of things to worry about with monkeypox — testing and vaccine distribution are far behind where they should be — it’s important to put the monkeypox public health emergency into perspective.

In May, Grid spoke with infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, about the state of the virus and how to think about it relative to covid. Adalja said at the time, and experts still say, that monkeypox and covid are two very different health threats.


Covid is a pandemic — and one that did not have a vaccine until well into its pandemic status, while monkeypox is an outbreak — a much less serious disease (although not to be taken lightly) with a vaccine against it that works.

Here are five ways to think about the monkeypox outbreak in light of the covid pandemic.

If you get monkeypox — and when compared to covid numbers, monkeypox is spreading but still relatively rare — you usually just need to rest at home.

“Most people [who get monkeypox] do OK with it,” said Adalja. “There have been deaths reported in Africa from it, but most of the cases that are importations into other countries don’t usually result in high levels of severity. Usually [people just require] supportive [home] care … most of them are not going to require hospitalization.”

Adalja explained that while there is no specific treatment for monkeypox, there are some antivirals that were developed for smallpox that work on monkeypox. These antivirals have been increasingly used to treat severe pain associated with lesions.


“Most of the cases are mild enough that they don’t necessarily have a benefit. You might see treatment used on immunocompromised individuals or people that have severe disease,” said Adalja.

Monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as covid.

Adalja emphasized that there are big differences between monkeypox and covid.

“I think there’s a tendency to view every infectious disease emergency post-covid as covid. That’s not a good way of looking at it because each virus has different biological characteristics.”

Monkeypox is a containable infection … and not able to spread in the manner of something that would overwhelm the healthcare system.

According to the CDC, monkeypox spreads through direct contact with infectious rash, scabs or body fluids; respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact; or during intimate physical contact. It also can spread via touching clothing or linens that previously touched infectious rash or body fluids. Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

“It’s not even in the same category of a threat to the public as a highly inefficiently spreading respiratory virus like SARS-CoV-2 or influenza,” said Adalja. “They can’t all be thought of at the same threat level.”

He added that unlike covid, it’s not contagious before people have symptoms. Plus, he said, the vaccine is an excellent resource once a case is identified.

“You can use the vaccine as prophylaxis, meaning when you have a case, you can find the context of that case and then vaccinate all those contacts and halt transmissions.”

The mortality rate for monkeypox is very low.


Adalja said one of the key things to note is that people aren’t likely to be hospitalized at the extreme rates they have been in the past with covid.

“There are two different strains of the virus,” he said, “one more virulent than the other. The cases that we’re seeing now are from a less virulent strain, and we’re not

even hearing about many people being hospitalized with monkeypox.”

Can animals get monkeypox?

According to the CDC, the monkeypox virus can infect a “wide range of mammal species, including monkeys, anteaters, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, squirrels, and shrews” and possibly mice and rats. And not all animals may present a rash.


And what about pets? That’s a maybe, said the CDC, but we “should assume any mammal can be infected.”

As to whether your pet or local mouse can transmit the virus to humans, the CDC said yes it is possible “through close contact, including petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, licking, sharing sleeping areas, and sharing food.”

There are vaccines available to those at highest risk for monkeypox.

The CDC recommends the following people get vaccinated for monkeypox:

  • People who have been identified by public health officials as a contact of someone with monkeypox
  • People who are aware that one of their sexual partners in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with monkeypox
  • People who had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox
  • People whose jobs may expose them to orthopoxviruses

“The thing about monkeypox is that since it’s so related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can be deployed to stop spread,” said Adalja.


While the smallpox vaccine ceased to be part of the regular vaccination schedule in the 1970s, the monkeypox vaccine is currently available in limited supplies in the U.S., with the White House promising more to come and the Food and Drug Administration coming up with more efficient ways to use the doses they have.

Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.

  • Kaila Philo
    Kaila Philo

    Government and Political Institutions Reporter

    Kaila Philo is a reporter at Grid where she focuses on the U.S. government and political institutions.