Parents should know the risk of monkeypox in their children

Since the outbreak of monkeypox in the United States in May, more than 7,500 Americans have been infected with the virus, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.At least five children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disease so far, including two in California, two in Indiana and an infant who is traveling in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, health officials in Illinois said they were screening children and others at a day care center for possible exposure to monkeypox after an employee tested positive.

Although the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, the number of pediatric cases has so far been low. However, many parents are already worried about monkeypox, especially as kids start to go back to school.

To help provide guidance on monkeypox and how it affects children, Yahoo News spoke with Dr. Charles Mitchell, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami Health System, and Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

How worried should parents be about monkeypox?

Gandhi said the risk of monkeypox in children is very low and rarely fatal. So far, the U.S. has not reported any deaths since the outbreak began.

“There are five cases in children, but this is actually an extremely rare event,” she said.

Gandhi said that most of the cases, about 98.3% of them, were men who had sex with men. Health experts say the virus is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact in this segment of the population.

Additionally, Mitchell told Yahoo News that while the number of monkeypox cases in the U.S. is increasing, the virus won’t “have the impact COVID-19 has, especially on children,” adding, “It’s far from reached in terms of the contagiousness of COVID-19.”

“I don’t think I’d be overly alarmed,” Mitchell said.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of monkeypox may include fever, severe headache, muscle aches, back pain, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and rash or lesions. According to health experts, the virus causes painful and debilitating symptoms, but about 90 percent of people usually survive on their own without any complications.

Skin lesions from monkeypox are highly contagious, but most people resolve them within two to four weeks. According to the CDC, someone is considered contagious until their lesions scab over and the scab falls off.

According to the agency, young children under the age of 8, especially those with eczema and other skin conditions, as well as children who are immunocompromised, may be at increased risk for serious illness.

Because their immune systems are not fully developed, children may be more likely than adults to develop severe disease from monkeypox, Mitchell said.

Mature oval monkeypox virions (left) and spherical immature virions (right) from human skin samples associated with the 2003 woodchuck outbreak.

Mature oval monkeypox virions (left) and spherical immature virions (right) from human skin samples associated with the 2003 woodchuck outbreak. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

How does monkeypox spread to children?

Monkeypox is spread through physical contact with an infected person, especially when one person comes into direct contact with another person’s skin lesions or bodily fluids. It can also be spread through respiratory droplets or aerosols from sneezing or coughing, but experts say this requires close and prolonged contact with an infected person.

Additionally, monkeypox can be spread by sharing items such as towels, clothing, or sheets used by people with monkeypox.

Gandhi said the five reported cases of monkeypox in children in the United States were likely the result of family transmission through parents.

“It could be very close person-to-person contact between the child and the parent with active monkeypox lesions, possibly a gay male parent,” Gandhi said.

Mitchell said the best way to protect children right now is to make sure they don’t come into contact with anyone with the disease. “In fact, if someone is a friend or family member who appears to have this condition, I would limit contact with that person,” he said.

Another way to protect children from monkeypox, Gandhi explained, is for parents to protect themselves and get vaccinated when they are at high risk of contracting the disease.

“I think the most important thing is to protect the adults around the children,” she said.

According to the CDC, those who are more susceptible to monkeypox are those who have had a sexual partner diagnosed with monkeypox in the past two weeks, and who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks and live in an area with current transmission people are tall.

Others at risk include those whose jobs could expose them to monkeypox, such as some laboratory workers conducting orthopoxvirus testing and “some designated healthcare or public health workers,” the agency said.

“If you’re going to be vaccinated as a gay man, get vaccinated, because then you won’t get it at all,” Gandhi said.

How about wiping the surface? Should parents avoid taking their children to public places like playgrounds?

Currently, Gandhi said, children are unlikely to contract monkeypox through contact in public places such as schools and playgrounds, as the virus is mainly spread through very close and prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Parents don’t have to worry about disinfecting surfaces or taking their kids to public places to avoid monkeypox infection.

“Accidental contact — sitting on a plane, sitting next to someone is not how you get this virus,” she said. “In fact, we’re going to have a lot more cases — I mean, if it spreads as easily as COVID-19, it’s probably in the million or more range.”

Is there a treatment or vaccine for monkeypox in children?

There is currently a monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos, which is only available to adults 18 years of age and older. However, injections for children with known exposure can be given on a case-by-case basis, with special authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and according to the CDC, in coordination with state and local health departments to obtain their agencies.

The CDC says on its website that Jynneos “has been administered to some children in the United States during the current outbreak with no adverse events to date.”

An antiviral drug called tecovirimat, or Tpoxx, could also be used in children and teens who may have severe illness or have underlying conditions that put them at risk for severe disease from monkeypox, Gandhi said.

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