On July 23, the World Health Organization deemed the recent monkeypox outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” The last time the WHO declared a global health emergency was in January 2020, due to the then-recent outbreak of COVID-19.

On August 1, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency with more than 1,200 reported cases in the city.

Though it remains to be seen whether or not this new variation of monkeypox leads to another pandemic, it’s essential for both patients and pharmacists alike to be informed of the virus.

Since monkeypox is not necessarily a new disease, it can be effectively treated and prevented. In this case, the best way to handle the outbreak is to know what exactly we’re dealing with.

Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox moving forward:

Monkeypox Statistics: The US and Abroad

22,485 global cases have been confirmed in 79 countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

75 suspected deaths from monkeypox had been recorded in Africa. On July 30, Spain reported two deaths, the first recorded deaths outside Africa.

Recovery time has been recorded anywhere between two to four weeks, though infection is said to be extremely painful.

As of August 1, 2022, the U.S. is the global epicenter of the outbreak with 5,189 confirmed cases, passing Spain with 4,298 cases. On July 27, 1,048 new cases have been confirmed in the span of 24 hours, a record figure in that span of time.

New York, Washington, D.C., and California are the hardest hit areas in the country.

What Does Monkeypox Look/Feel Like?

Compared to early variations of monkeypox, current symptoms are considerably more atypical. Earlier variations caused flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches.

Currently, some cases start with a rash without any flu-like symptoms. It is also reported that many cases have “developed a localized rash on their genitals and anus.

Per the CDC, the rash can look like “pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.”

Monkeypox can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, due to its similarity to other rash-like diseases such as chickenpox, measles, scabies, and syphilis.

Though the WHO did declare the outbreak to be a global health crisis, it’s expected that the fatality rate won’t reach COVID levels.

More than 99% of patients are expected to survive upon diagnosis, according to the CDC.

The CDC notes that those who are immunocompromised patients, children younger than 8 years old, people who have a history of eczema, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding are more likely to become seriously ill or die from monkeypox.

How Monkeypox is Transmitted

The main way monkeypox spreads is through person-to-person contact. This includes:

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or bodily fluids
  • Intimate physical contact, such as kissing or sex
  • Touching items that previously made contact with the infectious rash or body fluids
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta

Though men who have sex with men are at the highest risk of infection, the CDC and other healthcare professionals assert that anyone can get infected and any stigma aimed at gay men should not exist.

How Monkeypox Can be Treated

Because monkeypox is in the same family as smallpox, there is a proven and effective groundwork for treatment. Antivirals used for smallpox can help treat cases of monkeypox.

Be that as it may, there are currently no treatments that explicitly treat monkeypox, so the antivirals for smallpox may not fully treat current afflictions.

The CDC mentions the antiviral tecovirimat (also known as TPOXX) as a possible recommendation for patients who are more susceptible to becoming severely ill.

How to Avoid Getting Monkeypox

To prevent getting monkeypox, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Avoid skin-to-skin (kissing, hugging, cuddling, or having sex) contact with someone who has a rash that might be monkeypox
  • Avoid handling or touching the bedding, towels, or clothing of someone who has monkeypox.
  • Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Healthcare Professionals: What to Do in a Pharmacy Setting

More likely than not, you and your pharmacy are well-versed in keeping your place of work as clean as possible to prevent a virus from transmitting.

Much of the same standards and practices apply here, though monkeypox is not an airborne virus, which was the key factor in COVID’s rapid spread.

Nonetheless, there are unique precautions to consider that don’t apply to COVID.

It’s recommended to avoid activities such as using portable fans, dry dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming since they could resuspend dried material from lesions — a subtle but important thing to look out for with monkeypox.

Should your independent pharmacy be the lucky few to receive the vaccines, it’s important to prioritize patients who are more susceptible to severe cases: people with compromised immune systems and people who have a history of eczema.

It’s not known if children or pregnant women are recommended to receive the vaccine.

Vaccines for Monkeypox

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration licenses two vaccines that help prevent infection from monkeypox: ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS (otherwise known as Imvamune or Imvanex).

At the time of writing, the U.S. is to release 786,000 vaccine doses to local health departments after the FDA approved the vaccine’s distribution.

Though there is currently a sizable amount of the ACAM2000 vaccine, it is not recommended for people who have a weakened immune system, have skin conditions like eczema, or are pregnant.

Be in the Know, Stop the Spread

With cases rising in record fashion, taking precautions and being informed about monkeypox has never been more important.

As an independent pharmacist, you will be the one people go to for advice, counsel, and guidance as to how to navigate this healthcare crisis.

Be in the know about how vaccines are being rolled out and what new therapies can help treat the virus.

Now that we know what monkeypox is and how it’s transmitted, we can reduce the spread as much as possible and not go through another agonizing pandemic.

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