What you need to know about monkeypox in Minnesota

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The United States and World Health Organization have declared a public health emergency after the monkeypox outbreak has spread to the U.S. and more than 70 other countries. Here’s what you need to know about the illness.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals such as rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. It belongs to the same virus family as smallpox. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, and outbreaks have been relatively limited.

Scientists first identified the illness in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys — thus the name monkeypox. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a young boy in a remote part of Congo.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. The lesions, which can resemble pimples, tend to start out flat and then rise up but with an indented center. Symptoms typically develop about 12 days after exposure, but they may appear as soon as five days or up to 21 days after exposure.

Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized, but monkeypox can be fatal in up to 6% of cases and is thought to be more severe in children.

Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox, and anti-viral drugs are also being developed.

How is monkeypox spread?

Transmission has typically occurred from animal to person in regions of Africa where monkeypox is endemic, but the virus this year started spreading from person to person. In humans, the virus is most commonly spread by direct contact with body fluids or skin lesions. It can also be spread by contact with contaminated clothing, bedding, towels or other objects used by an infected person, health officials say. Transmission may occur via respiratory droplets, but it is believed to be rare and requires extended contact of more than four hours with droplets from an infected person, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In the U.S. and Europe, the vast majority of infections have happened in men who have sex with men. However, health officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus, and they want to stop transmission before it spreads broadly and reaches high-risk groups, such as the elderly.

A person may be infectious from the onset of symptoms until scabs fall off and heal. The illness may last up to four weeks.

How can I avoid becoming infected?

Minnesota health officials recommend avoiding close, skin-to-skin contact — including hugging, cuddling, kissing or sexual contact — with people who have symptoms, whose infection status is unknown or who have traveled recently to areas that are impacted by the current outbreak. Having multiple or anonymous sexual partners may increase the chance of exposure.

It is also recommended to avoid sharing or handling bedding, towels or clothing with those who are infected with monkeypox. Avoid sharing utensils or cups and wash your hands often with soap and water, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

How many cases have been reported in Minnesota?

The first Minnesota case of the newly emergent disease was diagnosed June 24 in Hennepin County. As of Thursday, there have been 44 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Health. More than 6,600 cases have been reported in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How are federal and state health officials responding to the outbreak?

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday declared a public health emergency to free up federal money and other resources to fight the spread of the virus. The White House said it has made available more than 1.1 million doses of vaccine and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week. The emergency declaration comes as clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.

The Minnesota Department of Health has created a website with information about monkeypox, including how to get tested or find a vaccine or treatment. It has also launched a newsletter to share updates.

How can I find a test or vaccine for monkeypox?

Health officials recommend seeing a health care provider right away if you have a new rash or other symptoms. A monkeypox rash may resemble other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A list of free or low cost STI testing sites can be found here.

There are two vaccines available in the U.S. to prevent monkeypox, though Minnesota only has enough to vaccinate a few thousand people, according to the state health department. Vaccine is available for people 18 and older on a post-exposure basis, and pre-exposure for people at greatest risk for infection. You can find more information about who may be eligible to be vaccinated here.

How many monkeypox cases are there in a typical year?

The World Health Organization estimates there are thousands of monkeypox infections in about a dozen African countries every year. Most are in Congo, which reports about 6,000 cases annually, and Nigeria, where about 3,000 cases are reported each year.

In the past, isolated cases of monkeypox have been spotted outside Africa, including in the U.S. and Britain. The cases were mostly linked to travel in Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.

In 2003, 47 people in six U.S. states had confirmed or probable cases. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that had been housed near imported small mammals from Ghana.

Staff writers Jeremy Olson and Matt McKinney and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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