Should I Be Worried About Monkeypox? Top Professor Gives Reassuring Context

An expert on vaccines and tropical medicine has said that the current outbreak of monkeypox should be simpler to contain than COVID-19 and noted that the disease is more easily identifiable.

Peter Hotez, a professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, provided key context for the monkeypox outbreak during an appearance on CNN on Friday.

Eighty cases of monkeypox have now been confirmed in at least 12 countries across the globe, including the U.S. and Canada, while the World Health Organization (WHO) says they are investigating 50 other potential cases.

A Close-Up of Monkeypox Lesions
Close-up of monkeypox lesions on the hands of a patient during the recuperative stage of the virus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1997. There have been outbreaks of monkeypox in at least 12 countries. Smith Collection/Gado/CDC/Mahy et al/Getty Images

The disease can cause lesions on the skin and the swelling of lymph nodes.

CNN's Laura Coates asked Hotez about the disease and possible comparisons with COVID-19, which has now been responsible for the deaths of more than one million Americans as well as unprecedented disruptions to everyday life.

Hotez said that when it comes to COVID and monkeypox "you can't really compare the two."

"This is in terms of orders of magnitude less. We are seeing now multifocal outbreaks in multiple countries, meaning that historically we've seen transmission in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.

"What's unusual here is there's been transmission of this monkeypox outside of Nigeria, in several different countries, and there's been ongoing transmission in several different countries.

"So, we have 17 suspected or actual cases in Montreal, you've got around 20 cases in Spain, several cases in the U.K., Sweden, and now Australia, and two cases in the U.S.

"So, trying to understand how all that unfolded and what level of transmission is going on within these other new countries in Europe, Australia, and the U.S. is what's under active investigation right now."

Coates noted that nobody has yet died of the monkeypox outbreak and Hotez explained that one symptom of monkeypox was swelling of the lymph nodes around the face and neck. He said that could actually be a good thing in terms of limiting transmission.

"I know it sounds kind of strange but in some ways that's a blessing in terms of being able to trace all the contacts," Hotez said.

"Just the opposite with COVID-19, right? You have up to 40 percent of the cases without any symptoms at all. It makes contact tracing a nightmare.

"Here, with monkeypox, any new case that you have, you can readily detect and identify all of the contacts and either isolate them or vaccinate them or treat them.

"And the fact that monkeypox is far, far less transmissible than COVID-19, certainly in its current form—all of those things add up to the fact that it's unlikely we're going to see anything near the level of transmission and the level of cases that we've seen for COVID-19.

"So, hopefully this could be self-limited between a combination of contact tracing and/or vaccination."

Coates asked how monkeypox could be treated and Hotez said there were a number of different options. "One, there are actually antiviral drugs that were developed for smallpox," he said, adding "there are at least two or three vaccines."

Hotez explained that the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) had stockpiled smallpox vaccines over concerns about the potential use of smallpox as a bioweapon following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"That's when BARDA was started, to stockpile smallpox vaccines and smallpox treatments. And those seem to cross over relatively well towards monkeypox," he said.

"There are at least three vaccines. One's the old smallpox vaccine, which is a live, replicating virus vaccine. There's a newer one that's non-replicating. And that may be important, especially in anyone who has co-infection with HIV. You definitely want to use the non-replicating vaccine.

"And then we have a couple of antiviral treatments. We have ways to identify patients, isolate patients due, do the contact tracing.

"All of those stack the deck in terms of being able to limit the spread of this, especially in countries that have well-functioning health systems such as western Europe and Australia and the U.S. and Canada."

Hotez later took to Twitter to highlight his CNN appearance and reiterated: "The good news is that these outbreaks should be easier to contain than something like COVID19."