August 18, 2022 – Should parents of young schoolchildren be worried about monkeypox?
So far, at least nine children in the United States have tested positive for monkeypox. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the risk of children being infected with the virus is low.
Still, “children and teens are more likely to be exposed to monkeypox if they live in or have recently traveled to a community with higher infection rates,” the academy says.
As the back-to-school season officially kicks off, read on to learn more about how to prevent the spread of monkeypox.
What are the signs of monkeypox in children?
Monkeypox infection in children appears the same way it appears in adults. According to the CDC, the most common sign of monkeypox in children and adults is a rash that looks like raised bumps.
Paulette Gray Riveria, MD, family physician and regional medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health, says you can tell if a rash is monkeypox by how it changes over time. “A monkeypox rash will go from being initially flat, to raised, to fluid-filled, and finally to a scab that eventually falls off and is replaced by a new layer of skin,” she says.
Monkeypox sores usually appear all at once and go through the different stages together, and it’s less common to have sores in different stages, Riveria says. Fever, headache, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes are also common in children with monkeypox, but they may not appear in every case, according to the CDC.
Are children at risk of serious illness from monkeypox?
Carlos Oliveira, MD, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in Connecticut, says most cases of monkeypox are “self-limiting,” meaning they go away from them themselves without treatment. That said, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that infants, young children, children with weakened immune systems, and children with skin conditions like eczema are more likely to become seriously ill if they catch the disease. monkey pox.
The CDC also states that children younger than 8 infected with the Congo Basin variant of monkeypox are more likely to have a serious infection. (That said, the variant of monkeypox currently spreading around the world is the West African variant, which is known to cause milder disease.)
How can schools prevent the spread of monkeypox?
The monkeypox virus is mainly spread when people have direct contact with the fluid in monkeypox rashes. This can happen through skin-to-skin contact or by touching objects that have encountered an infected person’s rash. Things like shared towels, bedding, clothing, toiletries, and utensils can all spread monkeypox.
The CDC also claims that poxviruses like monkeypox are hardy; researchers found a living virus in the home of a person infected with monkeypox 15 days after leaving.
The good news is that the strategies schools have already used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also be used to prevent monkeypox, such as “encouraging personal space, promoting frequent hand washing, and telling parents to keep the kids home when they’re sick,” says Rivera.
For older students, like those in high school, Riveria says “the best precaution is awareness.” She says it’s important for young adults to know what monkeypox rashes look like, how monkeypox is spread and where they can get health care and treatment.
Young adults should “avoid contact with anyone who has monkeypox or who has been exposed to the virus,” she says. “While awareness is essential, aligning responsible behavior with that awareness is equally important.”
Are there treatments and vaccines for monkeypox for children?
Oliveira says the drug tecovirimat and the vaccine Jynneos can be used to prevent serious monkeypox infections in children.
Tecovirimat is a drug that can treat viruses from the same family as monkeypox. It is FDA-approved for the treatment of smallpox, but the CDC allows its use for serious monkeypox infections. According to the CDC, a 28-month-old child received tecovirimat and had no harmful side effects, but there have been no studies on how the drug affects children.
The Jynneos vaccine was approved in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox in adults. This month, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the vaccine to be given to children under 18 who are at risk of serious illness from monkeypox. That said, pediatricians need FDA clearance to administer the Jynneos vaccine to children, according to Oliveira.
For mild cases of monkeypox, the World Health Organization says care should focus on easing symptoms and managing complications. Parents or caregivers of children with monkeypox should avoid touching anything the child may have come into contact with on the skin and use personal protective equipment such as gloves when handling contaminated objects. Anyone with monkeypox is contagious until all of their lesions have crusted over and healed, says Oliveira.
“The CDC recommends that people with monkeypox stay in isolation during the course of their disease, which normally lasts between 2 and 4 weeks,” he says. “Hand hygiene is a simple and effective tool to prevent infections. Isolation and vaccination of close contacts are also recommended.
Riveria reassured parents that while monkeypox can cause more severe illness in children than in adults, “we don’t see that theoretical risk materializing so far.”
“Parents need to be vigilant, but not hypervigilant,” she says.