Research

What Is Monkeypox? A UK Virologist Explains

monkeypox virus
Udomkarn Chitkul, iStock/Getty Images Plus.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 1, 2022) — Monkeypox has exploded into the news recently, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) closely tracking cases that have been recently reported in several countries that don’t normally have monkeypox activity, including the U.S.

University of Kentucky immunology and virology expert Ilhem Messaoudi, Ph.D., answered our questions about the monkeypox virus. Messaoudi, chair of the College of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics, shares what you need to know about monkeypox — including symptoms, risk and treatment.

Q: What is monkeypox?

A: Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is a member of the orthopoxvirus genus within the Poxviridae family. It is in the same genus as variola virus, which causes smallpox.

Is Monkeypox the next COVID? No. Unlike SARS-CoV-2, monkeypox is contagious once the person has developed symptoms, and it is not easily transmitted between individuals. Vaccines against smallpox/monkeypox are available. We also have access to therapeutics in the form of antiviral and vaccinia immune globulins.

Q: What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

A: The incubation period is often seven to 14 days but can be as long as 21 days. Symptoms first start with chills, fever, aches and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed by the appearance of a rash that progresses to blisters.

Q: How does monkeypox spread?

A: Monkeypox is spread via close prolonged contact with body fluids/lesion materials, for example, by caring for or interacting closely with someone exhibiting symptoms, getting bit by an infected animal or manipulating sick animals, or handling contaminated materials. It can be spread via the respiratory route, mucosal route or through broken skin. 

Q: As of now, how would you assess the risk for Kentuckians?

A: The risk for Kentuckians is pretty low. However, please note that there is a suspected case in Virginia. Given global travel and increased activities now that several COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, and the potential of large gatherings at upcoming events, everyone should be vigilant.

Q: How can one best prevent or avoid monkeypox?

A: Practice good hand hygiene, which we should all be very good at by now. If you find yourself in an area where monkeypox has been detected, avoid contact with animals that are sick or found dead. For health care workers caring for monkeypox patients, PPE including respiratory protection and patient isolation are needed.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.