Just when you thought it was safer to get back on an airplane comes word that there is a potential outbreak of something called monkeypox. You’re not alone in wondering what this ominous-sounding virus is, how to hopefully avoid contracting it, and if this is going to change your summer travel plans.
On May 6, doctors confirmed that a British citizen who had arrived from Nigeria two days earlier had symptoms of monkeypox, a virus that manifests itself a week or two after exposure. Symptoms include skin rashes, fatigue, headache, high fever, shivering, swollen lymph nodes and muscle pains.
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What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that is transmitted through bodily fluids, direct contact with skin lesions or through clothing, towels or bedding that has come in contact with bodily fluids. It can also be transmitted through respiratory droplets, but such transmission is thought to happen after extended exposure. The illness generally lasts two to four weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has recently issued a monkeypox alert for travelers, raising the risk classification from level 1 (Practice Usual Precautions) to level 2 (Practice Enhanced Precautions). If it gets to level 3—and it’s not there yet—it would be a warning for people to “avoid nonessential travel.”
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“Even though the alert is disconcerting, especially as we continue to face ongoing COVID concerns, the risk to the general public remains extremely low at this time,” said Holly Phillips, MD, Board Certified Internist in practice in Manhattan. “Monkeypox does not spread as readily as COVID or many other common viruses and the highly visible physical manifestations could lead to faster and more effective quarantining of affected individuals helping to control spread.”
Are there destinations that are higher risk of monkeypox?
As of May 30, there have been 257 confirmed cases in the countries of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
According to the CDC, monkeypox is more common in central and western Africa, particularly in tropical forested areas. “Cases are rare among travelers, but have occurred,” according to the CDC website.
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Dr. Phillips added, “Travelers should be aware of the illness, how it is spread, and be careful to avoid known contacts. However, it’s not necessary to edit or cancel travel plans at this time.” Monkeypox is spread from animals to humans through being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. It is also spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and through contact with materials that have touched bodily fluids or sores. It is important to ensure that hotel bedding and towels are clean.
What to do if you think you catch monkeypox when traveling
The CDC is cautioning that anyone who has recently traveled to central and west African countries and has symptoms to contact their healthcare provider immediately. The CDC also recommends that travelers should avoid eating wild game, particularly “bushmeat”; avoid contact with live or dead animals, particularly rodents; and keep a distance from people, particularly those with skin lesions.
Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?
According to the WHO website, there are several smallpox vaccines that are effective against monkeypox and there’s even a monkeypox vaccine that was developed in 2019. WHO is currently working with the manufacturer to improve access to the vaccine. But at the moment WHO and other health organizations are not yet recommending the general public try to get the monkeypox vaccine.
Most travel insurance policies will cover monkeypox treatment but be sure to read through all the fine print on your policy or call the travel insurance company to find out before your trip.
Before your summer travels begin, Dr. Phillips suggests making yourself aware of the signs and symptoms. “Don’t hesitate to get checked out if you think you may have been exposed or if you develop any unexplained skin symptoms,” she said. “Overall, being informed and aware of local illnesses and conditions, monkeypox and others, is your best protection during travel.”