COVID-19 hasn’t completely disappeared, and there’s news of the monkeypox virus. Currently, there is no specific treatment for Monkeypox; there are a couple of vaccines and an antiviral drug approved for treating some cases. These measures are now challenging to find, but they are free and do not require health insurance.
What is Monkeypox, and Are You In Danger of Exposure?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by an infectious virus. It is similar to smallpox, but the symptoms are milder and rarely fatal. Even though it sounds like chickenpox, it’s not related to this illness.
A rash in the genital or anus region is common with Monkeypox, but the rash can also occur on the hands, feet, chest, face, and mouth. The rash has several stages, with the beginning looking like small pimples or blisters that get worse until the final scab stage. In addition to the inflammation, other symptoms include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
- Respiratory symptoms: including cough, nasal congestion, or a sore throat
Some people experience the rash before these symptoms, others experience the symptoms before the rash, and some people only report having the rash. The symptoms usually begin within three weeks of exposure, and the person can spread the virus from the moment symptoms first start until the rash has completely healed and new skin has replaced the scabs. This takes two to four weeks.
Monkeypox traditionally had been found in tropical rainforest areas of west and central Africa. Still, in the spring of 2022, a new outbreak was so widespread that it led the World Health Organization to declare it a global health emergency on July 23, 2022.
How to Get Vaccines for Monkeypox
In the United States, the JYNNEOS vaccine is approved to prevent both smallpox and Monkeypox. The ACAM2000 vaccine is also approved and considered an alternative, but less used.
All versions of the monkeypox vaccine are in minimal supply. This is not a vaccine that everyone needs to have. Experts recommended that people who have had close contact with someone with Monkeypox get the vaccine.
Monkeypox spreads through sexual contact, so people with a sex partner who has a confirmed case of Monkeypox should seek the vaccine. After exposure, vaccinating as soon as possible provides the best chance for prevention or reduced symptoms.
The monkeypox vaccine is free, but there may be a charge for the administration of the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that a provider must give the vaccine, regardless of the ability to pay administration fees. The vaccine providers may bill insurance or another program that covers the vaccine, including private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. While this is the case now, it may not be in the future as the treatment becomes more widespread.
How to Get Treatment for Monkeypox
TPOXX, or tecovirimat, is going through clinical trials for use with Monkeypox and is starting to become more available for treatment due to a joint effort between the FDA and the CDC. It is an approved treatment for smallpox and used for Monkeypox too.
Finding the vaccine and treatment in the United States can be difficult, but the local public health clinic or health department can assist in locating a supply if someone is exposed.
Antiviral drugs and vaccines for Monkeypox are for people who have had contact with someone who has Monkeypox or for people who have a weakened immune system and are likely to become severely ill. If the symptoms are present, people should seek medical care. All approved monkeypox vaccines are free. Any administration fees can be charged to insurance and treated as all other health care treatments, subject to deductibles and co-payment.
Most people fully recover from Monkeypox within two to four weeks without medical treatment. Suppose an individual becomes very sick and requires additional health care and even hospitalization for Monkeypox. In that case, that care is covered by insurance as any other illness would be under that plan.
Next Steps to Prevent Monkeypox
Preventing Monkeypox is the best way to avoid contracting the virus. The many ways monkeypox spreads are still somewhat ambiguous, but it is known to spread through close, often physical, contact with someone who has Monkeypox. The following tips can help prevent contracting Monkeypox:
- Avoid physical and close contact with people who have Monkeypox or a similar rash
- Do not touch the rash of someone with Monkeypox
- Wash hands regularly and properly
- Do not share food or drink with an infected person
- Avoid touching the clothing or bedding of an infected person
- Avoid contact with stray monkeys and rodents
- Avoid contact with sick and dead animals
- Do not have sexual contact with a person who has Monkeypox or a rash
Monkeypox is rare in travelers, but one can contract it if someone does not take the above precautions. While anyone can get Monkeypox, frequently it is transmitted through sexual activity or close contact with someone who has the infection and is symptomatic. Traveling to an area where Monkeypox is more prevalent won’t necessarily lead to an increased risk unless one doesn’t take preventive measures.
Next Steps If You Think You’ve Been Exposed to Monkeypox
If someone believes they’ve been exposed to Monkeypox, even if they are not showing any symptoms, it’s best to connect with their healthcare provider immediately. Similarly, if someone is showing the signs but doesn’t think they’ve been in contact with anyone who has Monkeypox, scheduling an appointment with a doctor is the best first step.
The doctor will decide if the person is a good candidate for a vaccine or TPOXX treatment, which may indicate if there are underlying health concerns or a weakened immune system. In addition to possibly receiving antivirals, anyone with Monkeypox should do the following:
- Isolate. Stay at home and away from others until a new layer of skin has formed where the rash was.
- Avoid animals. Monkeypox can spread to animals, so avoiding contact with all animals is best.
- Cover the rash. Use gauze or bandages to cover the rash to prevent spreading.
- Don’t pop or scratch the lesions. Not touching the rash can lessen the chance of spreading the rash to other parts of the body or other people.
- Don’t shave. Shaving can cause more lesions and spread the virus until a new skin layer has formed.
- Keep the rash clean and dry. Change bandages frequently and wash the region of the inflammation.
- Wash hands. Wash hands well and correctly after direct contact with the rash.
- Take OTC medications. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help relieve symptoms.
- Topical benzocaine or lidocaine gels. Topical medications can relieve itch and pain. Other medicines and antihistamines may also be recommended.
- Gargle with salt water. Gargling with salt water at least four times a day is recommended if someone has a rash in their mouth.
- Be aware of touching surfaces. If someone has a rash on their hands, wear gloves, especially when handling surfaces others use.
- Wear a well-fitting mask. It is unknown if Monkeypox can spread by respiratory discharge but wearing a mask may protect others.
Consider Travel Medical Insurance If Going Abroad
Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, do not pay for health care received in another country. If this is a concern, travel medical insurance offers a solution. This health insurance pays for emergency medical expenses during a trip, not elective treatment.
A regular health insurance provider might offer travel medical insurance. If they don’t, several companies specialize in this type of coverage. Of course, like all insurance purchases, it pays to research to find a company that offers a desirable coverage package and a fair price.
There is an expense for a travel health insurance policy, and there are limits on how much will be covered. For people concerned about contracting Monkeypox when they travel to an area with an outbreak, this health insurance can help with medical and hospital expenses, if necessary. Remember, most people recover independently without hospitalization and the odds of contracting it fall if one follows preventive measures.