How worried should parents be about monkeypox?

A man examines a young child’s lower back.
Monkeypox requires close personal contact to spread, so household members are the most likely source in the low chance that children get it. (Getty Images)

Monkeypox has dominated headlines this summer thanks to its ongoing spread across the U.S. — and the world. As of right now, there are more than 5,100 confirmed monkeypox cases in the country, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with case counts rapidly increasing each day. With that, it's understandable for everyone — including parents — to have concerns and questions.

The disease is caused by the monkeypox virus, according to the CDC, and its symptoms are similar to those of smallpox but milder. Those can include a fever, headache, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes, followed by a distinct rash that usually starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body before the bumps fall off, the CDC says.

Monkeypox is spread to a person when they have direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids; contact with respiratory secretions from prolonged face-to-face contact; or from touching items, such as clothes or linens, that touched the infectious rash or body fluids, the CDC says. Pregnant people can also spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta, the agency says.

Cases have largely happened among men who have sex with men, causing World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to urge members of this community to reduce their number of sex partners and reconsider having sex with new partners. But cases aren't restricted to this community — and the CDC recently disclosed during a virtual event with the Washington Post that two children have contracted the disease.

While CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that both children "are doing well," parents likely have concerns — especially since the CDC also warns online that children under 8 years old are at an increased risk for severe monkeypox, along with those who are pregnant or immunocompromised. The CDC has even issued special guidance for pediatric doctors on what to look for with monkeypox in young patients and how to care for them.

Infectious disease experts and pediatricians tell Yahoo Life that monkeypox isn't something parents should be overly stressed about. Still, it's important to be informed. Here's what you need to know.

What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox to look out for?

In general, the CDC says, monkeypox is an illness that lasts for two to four weeks. It usually starts with these symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches

  • Backache

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Chills

  • Exhaustion

A few days later, an infected person will usually develop a rash that typically starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body. The bumps go through distinct phases, the CDC says:

  • Macules (flat, discolored bumps)

  • Papules (raised area of skin)

  • Vesicles (blisters filled with clear fluid)

  • Pustules (small bumps that contain pus and have a depression in the center)

  • Scabs (dry, crusty bumps)

"It's a very distinctive rash," Dr. Ian Michelow, division head of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Connecticut Children's Specialty Group, tells Yahoo Life. "The rash looks the same in kids as it does in adults."

But it can be tough to spot early signs of monkeypox in children. "Here's the problem: Kids, babies or toddlers don't always have the words to express things like, 'I have a headache' or 'I feel achy,'" Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "But those are feelings they can have at the initial stages of monkeypox."

How worried should parents be?

Experts stress that monkeypox is not something parents should be worried about at this point. "Without a known contact with a person or animal with monkeypox, the risk of monkeypox infection in children living in the U.S. currently remains low," Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. But, she adds, "parents should alert their children's pediatrician or public health department if their children have contact with a person diagnosed with monkeypox or a person who has an illness consistent with monkeypox."

Fisher points out that monkeypox is unlikely to be something your child picks up while they're out and about. "It's not going to be that you walk into a grocery store, somebody with monkeypox three aisles over sneezes and you or your child gets it," she explains.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees. "Monkeypox requires close personal contact to spread — that means it’s likely to be household members as the source," he tells Yahoo Life.

How is monkeypox treated?

Several antiviral medications are used in the U.S. to treat monkeypox, according to the CDC, including tecovirimat (TPOXX), cidofovir and brincidofovir.

What can parents do to protect their children?

Michelow stresses that parents "shouldn't be very concerned at all" about monkeypox. "It's not spread like COVID," he says. "You need close contact or skin contact."

But, Fisher says, parents should "vet" people who come into contact with their babies or toddlers. "I don't think it has to change people's lives in terms of what they're choosing to do for their daily activities, but you want to confirm that people are healthy before they interact with your child," she says.

Weatherhead recommends that parents "encourage their children to continue routine health safety practices including hand hygiene," adding, "No additional precautions are necessary at this time."

Overall, Fisher says that parents should be more concerned about COVID-19 than monkeypox. "COVID is much more rampant in the pediatric community," she says.

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