Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is in the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, but is much milder. There are currently 22 cases in the state, more than 15,000 nationwide and more than 43,000 worldwide. As with any new disease affecting our state, we at the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) want to separate the facts from the fiction so that residents can make informed choices to protect themselves.
Symptoms of monkeypox can include high fever, chills, headache, muscle and back pain, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. The best indicator that it is NOT another infection is a rash that may look like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and other parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, breasts, genitals, or anus. Some people get the rash before symptoms or just the rash. Although there have been no deaths in the US, monkeypox is still something to avoid and prevent.
Monkeypox is spread from person to person through close, personal, and often skin-to-skin contact with an infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids. It can also be spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact such as kissing, cuddling and sex. Anyone in close personal contact with a person infected with monkeypox can contract it and should take steps to protect themselves.
As monkeypox spreads across the US, we should remember that the risk of contracting monkeypox for most people is low, and we don’t need to wipe down our groceries or doorknobs like we did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have seen very early cases among gay and bisexual men, but we’ve seen infectious diseases spread through the population before. Because we know the highest risk is through close, personal contact, including intimate and sexual activities, we can all take precautions.
Because our case numbers are low right now, we have an opportunity as a community to help prevent the spread of monkeypox. There are three ways to do this:
1. Preventive behaviors: Because monkeypox is primarily spread by contact, you must come into either close physical contact with monkeypox lesions or objects that have touched monkeypox lesions. Therefore, ways to avoid getting monkeypox include: A.) Avoiding skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox, B.) Avoiding contact with objects and materials that a person with monkeypox has used measles, and C. ) Washing hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating or touching the face.
2. Test yourself: If you have a rash that looks like monkeypox, get checked out right away. The tests are becoming more widely available at health facilities and can also be done at DOH public health offices. Testing for monkeypox is free and you don’t need an ID or insurance. If you test positive for monkeypox and are eligible for treatment, your provider will also be able to provide you with access to free treatment through the DOH.
3. Get vaccines if you’re eligible: If you have been exposed to or are at high risk for monkeypox, a free monkeypox vaccine is available. The vaccine has few side effects other than pain at the injection site. We’ve seen affected communities protect themselves, their sexual partners and the people in their households by signing up for the vaccine. So far, more than 1,000 people in New Mexico have already chosen to reduce their risk and received the first of two vaccines.
For more information about monkeypox, visit nmhealth.org and click on the monkeypox tab in the upper right corner.