Monkeypox was first identified in humans in 1970 but cases had, for the most part, been concentrated in countries in West and Central Africa.
Now, monkeypox has spread and cases are appearing in the United States, including here in the Midwest.
As of late July, the confirmed number of cases in the U.S. sits at 2,108. Sixteen people from four counties in metro Detroit have confirmed infections, according to the Detroit Free Press. Across Chicago, another 178 cases and six hospitalizations have been confirmed, reports Channel 9.
While parents might see rising case numbers as a reason to worry — especially considering how quickly COVID-19 cases multiplied — health practitioners in both metro Detroit and Chicago note that monkeypox doesn’t pose a huge risk for kids.
“In this current outbreak, there have been no cases in children reported in the United States,” says Larry Kociolek, infectious diseases physician and medical director of the Infection Prevention and Control at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
Note: After our interview with Larry Kociolek, two cases of Monkeypox have been confirmed in kids in the U.S.
“Outside of the U.S., there have been very few — less than ten — pediatric cases reported,” he adds. “Clearly, children are at very low risk of developing monkeypox, and in general, parents should not yet be too concerned about their child getting monkeypox.”
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a strain of variola virus, which is the same type of virus that causes smallpox, but while the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to the symptoms caused by smallpox, monkeypox is milder and rarely fatal, according the CDC.
One thing parents should note, however is the difference between monkeypox and chickenpox.
“Chickenpox and monkeypox are two different types of pox,” says Eric McGrath, a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & Prevention and co-lead of the youth HIV clinic at Wayne State University. “The one main difference, clinically, is that the lesions are supposedly all-in-one stage with monkeypox, while with chickenpox the lesions develop in multiple crops.”
According to McGrath, the pox typically progress similarly in both diseases — going from a red bump to blister to rupture to scab — but people with chickenpox will have that process happen over and over, while monkeypox will finish within one cycle.
One other important difference McGrath notes is that “monkeypox is reportedly infectious all the way up until the skin is fully healed.”
How is monkeypox spread?
Despite some reports, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. It is spread by coming in close contact with someone who already has it or touching something they touched.
“Monkeypox can spread between people during any type of close contact including direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions, shared bedding or clothing, or respiratory secretions,” says Kociolek. “Transmission can occur between the start of symptoms and until all skin lesions heal, which can last two to four weeks.”
“Close contact may occur during sexual activity,” he adds. “In this current outbreak, the majority of cases in the U.S. have been related to close contact through sexual activity — however, anyone can get monkeypox through close contact irrespective of sexual activity.”
While the risk for children to contract monkeypox is low, parents of older kids who may be sexually active, or who otherwise come in close contact with others, should be mindful of the risks.
“I would definitely highlight that this is not a concern for parents who have newborns all the way up to elementary school,” McGrath explains. “If their kids are older, in the group where they might be sexually intimate, including kissing, that would be considered a risk right now.”
How should I keep my family safe?
For younger kids, McGrath says there isn’t much parents should be doing at this point, but parents of teens who may be sexually active should a conversation around health and safety.
“For older kids who might be sexually active, they need to talk to them about skin-to-skin contact and the transfer of respiratory droplets through activities like kissing,” he says. “No one is completely safe if they’re sexually active.”
“There’s controversy right now at the level of the health departments surrounding what the messaging should be — abstinence-only messaging doesn’t work very well,” he adds. “The best thing is to be cautious.”
That means having an age-appropriate conversation about safe sex.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics provides advice about how parents can discuss sex at an age-appropriate level,” Kociolek adds. “Parents can also engage their pediatrician in these discussions at adolescent well-child visits.
Both doctors agree that general sexual education may reduce an adolescent’s risk of getting monkeypox.
If you suspect yourself or your child has been exposed, there are treatment options. A vaccine for Monkeypox exists, but not every medical center has access to testing and vaccines.
In some cases, sexually transmitted infection clinics may have more resources to help. You can search for nearby clinics here.
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