Doctors are trying smallpox vaccines in an effort to treat the monkeypox epidemic

·4 min read

The technology used to protect against and treat smallpox is helping the world tackle the monkeypox epidemic today.

The United States has diagnosed more than 6,300 cases of monkeypox since May 18. The first case during this outbreak was identified in Boston, and the virus has since spread to 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

People infected with monkeypox would initially experience symptoms like fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue, along with red bumps on different parts of the body. The rash could later develop into painful blisters.

Monkeypox is usually spread through close, skin-to-skin contact, and could also be spread through touching objects and surfaces that have been used by an infected person.

How to test for monkeypox?

People could test for monkeypox after showing symptoms with a PCR test, which takes samples from blisters or ulcers.

Many laboratories offer monkeypox tests, and doctors could also order these tests for the patients. There are no at-home tests right now for monkeypox, said Dave Wessner, biology professor at Davidson College.

The FDA h care providers in case they have symptoms or if they believe they have been in contact with infected people.

Monkeypox state cases:New York, California top numbers as Biden admin declares emergency

Monkeypox vaccine protests erupt:Call for more government action on outbreak

Where can I get the monkeypox vaccine?

Jynneos is the only FDA-approved vaccine in the U.S. that protects against monkeypox and smallpox. People at high risk from the two viruses could get the two-dose vaccine, according to the FDA.

Jynneos could be used both pre- and post-exposure. The vaccine could potentially alleviate the symptoms of monkeypox, said Brian Grimberg, associate professor of pathology, international health, infectious disease and immunology at Case Western Reserve University.

Limited Jynneos vaccines have prompted some states to focus on vaccinating people at high risks of getting monkeypox, such as men who have sex with men, he said. Some states currently vaccinate people with only one dose to protect more people, although the vaccine comprises two doses.

One alternative is the ACAM2000, a single-dose vaccine used to prevent smallpox, Grimberg said. However, this vaccine is used sparingly because of its multiple side effects.

While both vaccines are based on the vaccinia virus, the live virus in ACAM2000 could replicate in a person’s cells and cause severe skin infections, especially in more immunocompromised recipients, Grimberg said.

“Because it’s a live virus, you actually get a real infection,” Grimberg said. “As you have that infection, and while you are fighting it off, you can spread that infection to other parts of your body or other people.”

For patients infected with monkeypox, doctors might use tecovirimat to treat the symptoms. However, its use for monkeypox is not approved by the FDA, and usually, the symptoms would go away on their own, Grimberg said.

How does monkeypox compare to the AIDS epidemic?

When HIV first became recognized in Europe and the United States, most of the cases appeared in gay and bisexual male communities. With monkeypox, around 99% of cases are among men, and at least 95% of those infected are men who have sex with men, according to WHO smallpox expert Rosamund Lewis.

Some technicians at commercial laboratories have refused to draw blood from patients who might have monkeypox, raising concerns about a stigma toward LGBTQ communities.

“Drawing blood in a clinical setting … is not a high-risk event,” Wessner said. “Unfortunately, we saw that (stigma) play out 40 years ago, and to some extent, we're seeing that stigma play out again right now.”

Unlike HIV, monkeypox isn’t a chronic virus, meaning patients normally recover from monkeypox within several weeks, while HIV usually stays with the infected person for life, said John Thornhill, clinical senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London.

Although monkeypox isn’t considered a sexually transmitted disease, most cases so far have been transmitted through sexual contact, he said.

“(Monkeypox) has a relatively low mortality rate,” Thornhill said. “They're completely different in terms of the outcomes for people who are infected. I wouldn’t compare them, I think they're so different.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meet the tech being used to test for and treat monkeypox