…and how natural medicine can help.
Recently, the federal government declared monkeypox to be a public health emergency. This has caused some alarm among the population—are we entering another COVID situation, with lockdowns and efforts at forced vaccination? Are there natural interventions that can help protect us from this new virus? Contextualizing the threat from monkeypox may help alleviate some of these fears.
It’s important to note that monkeypox is a very different virus from the virus that causes COVID. Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox but less severe. Since the virus was discovered in 1958, it was primarily found in Central and West Africa, but recently it has spread to dozens of countries, but cases in the US have risen the sharpest. There are likely more cases than currently being reported due to a testing bottleneck created in part by the federal government—in this, the current outbreak does share similarities with COVID-19. Shortages of the primary vaccine to combat monkeypox also has not helped dispel fears among the communities most threatened by the virus.
Generally, the disease is manageable and is characterized by clusters of small, painful bumps and blisters, often in the genital area, accompanied by fever and lymph node swelling. The rash can spread to the arms, legs, and face.
The virus is spread primarily through close, physical contact with a monkeypox sore during sex. It can also spread through respiratory droplets and touching objects that have also touched monkeypox sores, but this is very different from COVID. That is, the data we have so far from this outbreak suggests that these other routes of transmission are rare; when they occur, it is usually from living with an infected person. Infection usually requires exposure to a lot of the virus; the virus is concentrated most in the sores. Experts say it probably takes hours of repeatedly touching the virus on surfaces or breathing in particles to get infected. You won’t get it from casual contact, like shaking someone’s hand, or trying on clothing at a department store. Even if you’re living with someone, the risk of catching it is still quite low. Preliminary data found that the chance of spreading monkeypox to a household member, not through sex, is only about 0.6 percent.
For these reasons, some experts say it is accurate to think of monkeypox as a sexually transmitted disease, though there are some caveats. For example, wearing a condom can prevent many sexually transmitted diseases, but with monkeypox, naked cuddling is a big risk. Researchers are still looking at whether monkeypox can be spread through semen, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids.
Whether asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus is another open question at this point. Without the sores that characterize monkeypox, it seems unlikely that an individual can generate enough virus to be contagious. But a new Belgian study detected monkeypox in three men, none of whom had symptoms or any lesions.
More than 99 percent of the people infected with monkeypox in the US are men who have sex with men. Those who are at the highest risk for serious outcomes are those who have uncontrolled HIV infections.
Part of the rationale for declaring this outbreak a public health emergency is to allow more data sharing between the federal government and the states, expand the resources available to combat the outbreak, and to increase access to medical care.
Especially given the crippling shortage of monkeypox vaccines, the government should be looking at natural medicines that have shown promise. A 2017 study found that resveratrol suppressed poxvirus replication; Sarracenia purpurea, the purple pitcher plant, was used with apparent success in the 19th century to combat smallpox, and subsequent laboratory experiments have shown that it inhibits viral replication. The CDC confirms that medicines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat monkeypox.
In terms of prevention, we would do well to apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is that our best defense is to ensure that our ecological terrain is healthy—that is, we must maintain a healthy internal environment of the body (good diet, exercise, nutrition, etc.) and a healthy external environment (minimize stress, maintain positive relationships, and minimize exposure to environmental contaminants).
Our friends at ANH-International put together an excellent immune-support protocol for children going back to school during 2020, but many of these lessons still apply. It provides guidelines for vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc supplementation for every age group.
We also know that 92 percent of Americans have a vitamin deficiency. In fact, large studies have confirmed that most Americans are lacking in important micronutrients. Studies have shown that the immune system relies on micronutrients, and that supplements can help deliver these nutrients. You can help protect yourself by working with an integrative medical practitioner to assess your micronutrient status and correcting inadequacies.
Because of what we know about how monkeypox spreads, it doesn’t seem likely to produce a pandemic on the scale of COVID; but we must guard against the eventuality that the government will use the monkeypox outbreak to further erode our freedoms—particularly our right to use natural medicine to stay healthy.