‘Everybody should be concerned’ about monkeypox: Is Biden right?

Evan Vucci / AP

Fact Box

  • On May 22, 2022, President Biden told reporters “They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet, but [monkeypox] is something that everybody should be concerned about” before boarding Air Force One on route to Japan. 
  • The CDC lists monkeypox as a “rare disease that is caused by infection with monkeypox virus” that was discovered in 1958 in colonies of monkeys kept for research. The first human case was documented in 1970 in the Republic of Congo and has occurred outside of Africa in the US, Israel, Singapore, and the UK. 
  • According to the World Health Organization, since May 13, 2022, 92 lab confirmed cases and 28 suspected monkeypox cases have been reported across 12 member states that are “not endemic” to the virus. Recent cases do not have links to travel to endemic areas, but from “human-to-human transmission [occurring] among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic” as of current research. 
  • Monkeypox has symptoms similar but more mild than the symptoms of smallpox: fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and lesions. It lasts between two to four weeks.

Tyler (Yes)

While President Joe Biden emphasized the fact he does not hold the same level of concern toward monkeypox that he does COVID-19, he is correct in that this issue should be monitored and not taken lightly by any means. Biden's national security advisor disclosed the US has enough vaccines to use for monkeypox if needed. While accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference in Tokyo, Biden explained how the smallpox vaccine has demonstrated effectiveness in treating monkeypox. There does, however, seem to be some level of concern, as the United States recently ordered a whole new bulk of smallpox vaccines.

Last week, the first reported case of Monkeypox in the US was found in Boston. On Monday, the third and most recent suspected case was found in Broward County from a recent traveler. Biden explained he does not intend to orchestrate any type of quarantine process, which means people must take it upon themselves to adequately protect their safety. 

The issue is already endemic in Africa and was believed to have spread through sexual contact at music festivals throughout Europe, particularly in Spain and Belgium. Belgium was the first nation to institute a mandatory three-week quarantine for all travelers. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) identified at least 36 cases of Monkeypox since May 7th. Although the recent monkeypox outbreak is no reason to burst into a frenzy right away, it should certainly be a cause for concern due to the fact that little is known about the disease.

Siam (No)

President Biden is not a physician and, therefore, should refrain from making medical statements like the one about monkeypox. So far the WHO reports there being less than 100 confirmed global cases of monkeypox. There were, however, close to 600,000 COVID cases in the US in just May alone, with most states reporting at least 100 deaths. As of now, no one has died from monkeypox here or worldwide.

More cases of monkeypox are expected to emerge as surveillance increases but the virus that causes it is not dangerous. According to US public health officials, the risk to the general public is very low. Monkeypox is a viral illness presenting with body aches, fever, and a distinct bumpy rash. Even though related to smallpox, monkeypox is a much milder illness, with most people recovering fully within 2-4 weeks.

Perhaps most significantly, unlike other illnesses, monkeypox seems to be transmitted sexually, existing primarily among gay men

Scientists are trying to understand exactly how the recent outbreak started, though there is speculation where, and if there are any changes in the virus genome. WHO officials state that the recent infections may have occurred as a result of people gathering for parties, festivals, and holidays during the summer months.

The US government also has stockpiles of the smallpox vaccine and recommends it for healthcare workers who may be at risk while caring for patients. Additionally, antiviral drugs exist and can treat monkeypox in most circumstances. The best advice, for now, is to avoid sexual contact with others who have traveled abroad or anyone who has developed a rash and/or fever or flu-like symptoms.

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