With monkeypox, education is our best tool
This editorial is the consensus opinion of the Editorial Board of the Daily Herald
According to available information, the monkeypox virus is not as serious or as deadly as COVID-19 or smallpox. But on Saturday, the World Health Organization declared the spread of monkeypox a global health emergency, a designation meant to trigger a coordinated international response. On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker declared Illinois a disaster area, which his office said will help mobilize resources.
Both actions are reasonable. Unless states and the nation – and the world – develop a long-term plan for containment, we run the risk of monkeypox becoming another infectious disease that we will eventually regret not having done more to contain.
As of the start of this week, Illinois had 520 reported cases, 85% of them in Chicago. The city received 18,707 doses of the Jynneos vaccine directly, while the state received 7,371 — but sent 4,631 to Chicago. Jynneos, produced by Bavarian Nordic, is a two-dose vaccine that was approved for monkeypox and smallpox in 2019.
Another 13,000 additional state doses are expected from the federal government “in the near future.”
Monkeypox will spread statewide, of course, but for now it makes sense to place the vaccine where the most cases are. Limiting the ongoing spread will depend on several things, including ramping up vaccine production, aggressive public health campaigns, and extensive education aimed primarily at populations most at risk.
The disease, believed to be spread by close contact, can cause a variety of symptoms, the most noticeable being a painful or itchy rash. Currently, those most at risk are men who have sex with men. Additionally, most Americans born after 1972 have never been vaccinated against smallpox (routine vaccination in the United States ended in 1972 as smallpox was eradicated). Reports indicate that the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccine that older Americans received fades over time, but it can still help prevent monkeypox contagion.
The monkeypox virus was first observed in laboratory monkeys in 1958, but scientists have said rodents are probably the main carriers of the virus in nature. The first human cases were discovered in Africa in 1970, when the virus was transmitted from infected animals to people who came close to them.
Scientists say that at this time the risk to the general population is low and people are unlikely to come into contact with monkeypox in schools or offices, or on public transport. Unlike COVID-19, there is currently no evidence of airborne transmission. According to a recent New York Times article, immunocompromised people can have more severe cases, but monkeypox is rarely fatal.
Our advice: Take monkeypox seriously and educate yourself about the virus. Leave the limited number of doses of Jynneos to those most at risk of contacting the virus – but anyone with symptoms should see a doctor quickly.
As with all public health matters, we urge you to use trusted sources of information to keep up to date with the latest developments.