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Monkeypox and Polio

Monkeypox & Polio: What parents need to know  

Local pediatric experts provide facts about two growing health concerns

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hardly feels fair that we’re faced with yet another public health concern: monkeypox. The good news is that monkeypox is rare and much less transmissible than fast-spreading respiratory diseases like COVID-19 — but there are still some mysteries surrounding prevention, identification, and treatment, especially in children. 

Numbers rising

According to Dr. Cicely White, pediatrician and medical director of pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente in Washington, “Monkeypox is a relatively new virus in our area. The numbers we’re seeing right now are small compared to COVID-19, but they’re on the rise and will continue to be, especially if we see this virus expand to the broader population.”

Monkeypox is caused by a virus that is generally spread through close prolonged physical contact through direct contact with body fluids or infected skin lesions, or through contact with clothing or bedding used by someone with monkeypox. It can also spread rarely through large respiratory droplets from an infected person Many cases do not require treatment, and most people with monkeypox will recover on their own. 

“Kids are not at as high a risk for monkeypox as some populations,” Dr. White noted. “Spreading monkeypox usually requires prolonged skin-to-skin contact that we don’t always see in environments like a school. We will continue to see an increase in cases, especially in the larger Seattle area, but this is not as high of a concern as COVID-19 when it comes to back-to-school issues.”

What to look for

Symptoms in children are like those in adults, and some children may be at higher risk for severe disease. They include children under age 8; children with conditions that compromise their immune system; and children who have or have had atopic dermatitis or certain other skin conditions, such as eczema, impetigo, severe acne, or severe diaper rash. “If your child has a rash, or you suspect they have monkeypox, reach out to your doctor by phone. They will advise what to do and where to go,” said Dr. White.  

Symptoms to watch for include a rash that can look like pimples or blisters on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like hands, feet, and chest. Sometimes people get a rash followed by other symptoms such as a fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. Others only experience a rash. The rash (often itchy and painful) goes through different stages before healing. The illness typically lasts 2 to 4 weeks.

Apply what we learned from COVID

Vaccines to protect against monkeypox are managed by state and local public health departments, and the limited supply is currently being provided to the most at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men.

Fortunately, the preventive behaviors we adopted to protect against COVID can also serve to protect against monkeypox: wash your hands and stay home when you’re sick. Dr. White urges parents to make sure kids are up to date on all vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as an actionable step to help keep their kids safe this fall.

“If young kids are behind on or missing vaccinations, then we run the risk of outbreaks of other preventable diseases, particularly as fall and winter come around. And that would be something that could potentially happen in addition to what we’re dealing with for COVID-19 and monkeypox.”

The rising Polio concern

Dr. White noted that the virus that causes polio — an illness preventable with vaccination — has been found in wastewater samples in New York, prompting officials to warn of the likelihood of “community spread” in three New York counties. 

Polio (or poliomyelitis) is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by poliovirus, which can infect a person’s spinal cord and lead to paralysis. Until recently, polio had been eliminated from the United States, but it still occurs in other parts of the world. 

A high transmittable disease

Poliovirus is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. It spreads through contact with the stool (poop) of an infected person or droplets from a sneeze or cough.

No cases of polio have been reported in Washington state. Dr. White said the best way to protect yourself and keep the United States polio-free is to maintain high immunity protection through vaccination. Children should usually get 4 doses of polio vaccine at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and 4-6 years.

Vaccination critical to preventing polio 

“Part of the way that we make sure we keep our communities healthy is by making sure that not just an individual is vaccinated, but that most people in the population are, because that leads to herd immunity,” Dr. White said. “That means that if someone gets a preventable disease, there aren’t opportunities to pass it on, and it won’t multiply quickly. That’s our best chance at keeping people healthy.”

Monkeypox and polio, just like COVID-19, are public health concerns that we can all take steps to prevent and minimize. This school year can be a safe and healthy one for all of us if we continue to get vaccinated and boosted, stay home when sick, and remain in touch with health care providers to address symptoms and concerns.

Read more at Seattle’s Child:

The Dad Next Door: On the vaccine controversy



About the Author

Dr. Paul Thottingal, MD, FRCPC

Seattle-based Dr. Paul Thottingal, MD, FRCPC, is Senior Medical Director, Communicable Diseases at Kaiser Permanente.