Monkeypox Update and FAQs

Updated guidance and information about the monkeypox outbreak

By
Columbia University Public Health Working Group
August 03, 2022

An update on the current monkeypox outbreak

There is an ongoing outbreak of monkeypox (MPX) in several countries that do not normally report monkeypox, including in the United States. While there is reason for concern regarding this current MPX outbreak, panic is not warranted.

Currently, cases of MPX are primarily reported among social networks of men who have sex with men (MSM).  At this time, the overall risk of MPX to the general population appears to be low as it is primarily spread through direct, often intimate contact, and is not known to spread easily through casual contact. However, it is likely that others beyond the MSM community will get infected.

In the context of this outbreak, there is a risk of stigma and discrimination against persons with MPX or those groups at risk for it. Every effort must be taken to reject stigmatization and discrimination. 

The University is closely monitoring the situation based on data reported by the New York City Department of Health and the CDC and will continue to communicate with the community as the outbreak evolves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Monkeypox is a rare condition caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus belongs to the same family of viruses—known as orthopoxviruses—as the smallpox virus. However, while monkeypox symptoms are similar to those of smallpox, they tend to be milder, with very rare fatalities. This virus has been circulating in some regions of the African continent for several decades, however, most prior outbreaks outside these regions have been small in size. The current outbreak is notable for the relatively large number of cases and breadth of countries from which cases have been reported.  

Symptoms of monkeypox can include the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.

The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. It is important to note that in the current outbreak, people have reported getting a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.

The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks and recovery is determined when symptoms and rash have completely resolved.

The monkeypox virus is most often spread through direct contact with a rash or sores of someone who has the virus. It can also spread through contact with clothing, bedding and other items used by a person with MPX, or from respiratory droplets that can be passed through prolonged face-to-face contact.

The following steps can prevent one from getting monkeypox:

  • Avoid close, direct skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox or those diagnosed with MPX. Do not touch rash or scabs and avoid kissing, hugging or other intimate contact with a person with MPX.
  • Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with MPX.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Resource: CDC: Social Gatherings, Safer Sex and Monkeypox 

Vaccination

Monkeypox vaccination with the JYNNEOS vaccine is currently recommended for people who have had contact with someone with MPX and those who are at higher risk of being exposed to MPX.

The vaccine is recommended as two doses, at least four weeks apart.

Resource: JYNNEOS Vaccine for Monkeypox: Frequently Asked Questions

Vaccine eligibility

Eligibility for MPX vaccination may change as the outbreak evolves and based on vaccine supply. Currently, in New York City, adults 18 years of age or older who meet any of the following criteria are eligible for vaccination:

  • Contact with person with MPX or suspected of having MPX
  • Gay, bisexual, or other man who has sex with men, and/or transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary
  • Have a condition that may increase the risk for severe MPX disease such as HIV or another condition that weakens the immune system.

How to get vaccinated

Eligible persons can schedule an appointment through the city’s online vaccine finder. NYC currently has a limited number of doses of the vaccine, thus, appointments may be difficult to secure. However, more vaccine doses are anticipated to be available in NYC over the next several weeks.   

For those who have been informed by the Health Department that they are a close contact of someone diagnosed with MPX, the department will provide instructions about where to get vaccinated.

Most people with MPX have self-limited illness and require only supportive care. However, for some, antivirals such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) are recommended. These include people with more severe illness and those who are more likely to get severely ill with MPX, such as individuals with weakened immune systems.

Persons with MPX are encouraged to talk to their provider to find out if they are eligible for antiviral treatment. They may also be able to obtain medications to alleviate the symptoms of MPX.

If a person starts experiencing symptoms, they must isolate  immediately and talk to their health care provider. If a person does not have a health care provider, it is recommended to call 311 or search the NYC Health Map. A provider will conduct an evaluation and may order testing and referral for further management.

Columbia University students can also access evaluation, testing, and guidance at Columbia Health (for Morningside students) and Student Health on Haven (for CUIMC students).

A person with MPX is contagious until all symptoms have resolved and all sores have healed and a new layer of skin has formed on all sores, which can take 2-4 weeks.

A MPX diagnosis is considered private health information and affiliates who are diagnosed with MPX are not required to disclose their diagnosis to course instructors or supervisors when requesting accommodations during their isolation period.

All contacts should do the following:

  • Seek vaccination as soon as possible, ideally within five days of contact
  • Monitor closely their health and if develop symptoms, promptly seek consultation with provider or through student health services.