COVID-19 have been on everyone’s radar, but monkeypox is now the most talked one. Monkeypox, which is contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another (human-to-human or animal-to human), comes from the same virus family as the variola viruses (the virus that causes smallpox). The virus can also cause a smallpox-like rash. Ramprasad Gopalan MD, an infectious disease specialist from Wellington, Florida tells us that the virus affects layers of skin, causing inflammation and necrosis.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the virus can be spread by direct contact with the infectious rash, through respiratory secretions, prolonged contact or touch of bodily fluids or items that have been in contact with the infectious rash. It is not clear if people can spread the virus to others without symptoms.
Dr. Gopalan states that monkeypox is not contagious like the COVID-19 virus. You are unlikely to contract it if you’re not in close contact with someone or spend a long time talking face-to-face.
However, the disease’s effects on the skin are what leave us with many questions. To find out everything you need about monkeypox and its effects on skin, we spoke with experts.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox rash refers to an infection that appears as pink or red spots on the skin. It then changes over time. The rash starts as tiny red spots, then it develops into small bumps. Next, there are water blisters and finally, hard nodules that are pea-sized before crusting, scabbing and eventually falling off. Jeffrey Hsu MD is a board-certified dermatologist in Itasca, Illinois. These lesions can sometimes be painful.
Dr. Hsu notes that lesions can sometimes appear first in the mouth, genitals or face. Then they can spread to the trunk, hands, feet and trunk. The rash can last from beginning to end for up to four weeks.
How do you know if your rash is monkeypox?
It can be frightening to wonder if the skin blemishes you get could be monkeypox. On social media, there has been some confusion about the differences between monkeypox and other skin conditions like hives or bug bites, pimples or other rashes. There are a few things that can distinguish a monkeypox lession from others.
The accompanying symptoms are what make the rash unique. They usually flare up within one to three days. Dr. Hsu says that monkeypox eruption is not like bug bites, pimples or hives. It’s usually preceded by non-specific symptoms such as fever, headaches, fatigue, sore throat and myalgia.
Another is the progression of the monkeypox lesion from start to finish. Morgana Colombo MD, a board certified dermatologist, says that bug bites, hives and pimples do not go through multiple stages like smallpox. You can find out more about the distinguishing characteristics of monkeypox lesion here. A monkeypox diagnosis can only be confirmed by a doctor.
When is it appropriate to see a doctor for medical concerns?
Dr. Hsu recommends that you seek medical attention if you experience flu-like symptoms, and then develop lesions similar to the ones described above. Even if you don’t feel any symptoms, CDC recommends that you contact your doctor if you were in close proximity to someone with monkeypox.
Dr. Gopalan states that if you have been exposed to monkeypox you should keep an eye on your symptoms for 21 days. If you have symptoms like fever, swelling of the lymph nodes or rash, call your doctor immediately.
How can you treat a monkeypox rash?
You might instinctively try to treat a skin infection if it appears. But Dr. Colombo advises that you resist the urge to do so until you know what is causing it. She explains that you should not try to treat the lesions at your home without first seeing a doctor and having them tested.
If you have monkeypox and your doctor confirms it, doctor may prescribe you an oral antiviral medication like tecovirimat (TPOXX). This will significantly reduce the symptoms of flu-like symptoms in 24 to 48 hours depending on how severe your case is. Although it can reduce the symptoms of the lesions, it won’t necessarily cure them.
Dr. Hsu recommends that mild cases be quarantined and that patients rest at home for up to four weeks. To heal the skin, Dr. Colombo recommends that you avoid using topical or oral steroids such as prednisone or cortisone creams. She explains that these can weaken your immune system, and worsen an outbreak.
She suggests that lesions be allowed to heal while they are being treated. To limit spreading, Dr. Colombo recommends that lesions be covered with gauze or bandages when you go out in public.
Dr. Colombo says that skin can become more sensitive during an outbreak. Therefore, she advises against using harsh chemicals such as chemical exfoliants. To ease discomfort, Dr. Colombo recommends that you use a gentle cleanser as well as a moisturizer. Dr. Hsu suggests taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain. He explains that a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal may be able to relieve itchy skin.
It is important to remember that you should not pick at lesions during quarantine, particularly during the scabbing phase. She says, “Don’t pick at the lesions as it can cause worse scarring. Avoid contact with other lesions until they have crusted over.”
This will not only reduce scarring but also prevent the disease from spreading. Dr. Gopalan states that skin lesions can be contagious so it is important to avoid touching scabs or lesions. Note: Touching a scab, or lesion on a patient with monkeypox will not cause new lesions. The disease is systemic.
What long-term effects can monkeypox lesion affect skin?
After the rash is completely healed, you might notice darkened areas or scarring if you pick at the lesions. These should disappear on their own within six months according to Dr. Colombo. If they persist, your dermatologist can help you.
“In most cases, patients recover completely,” Dr. Hsu says. “Some cases can cause scarring.”
If you have monkeypox, it is important to quarantine and rest to prevent spreading the disease. Dr. Hsu states that most people are concerned about another pandemic because of the current COVID environment. While monkeypox can spread to the entire population, it is not impossible. However, severe consequences like death are less likely.
Despite this, if you’re concerned about getting monkeypox, two vaccines are available to prevent it: JYNNEOS, also known as Imvamune, which is the preferred vaccine of the CDC (because it has fewer side-effects), and ACAM2000. The federal health agency recommends that people who have been exposed or are more likely to contract monkeypox be vaccinated.