How monkeypox compares with familiar viruses

Michael Gale Jr. says monkeypox deserves as much caution as the United States gave smallpox in generations past, albeit with the knowledge that the symptoms of monkeypox are known to be less severe.

“Everybody – even if you're not in an outbreak area – needs to be aware that monkeypox is here,” said Gale, a professor of immunology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease. “It hasn't been studied enough to know how contagious it is from person-to-person because the outbreaks have been small and sporadic.”

Smallpox, which was eradicated globally in 1980, is a cousin to monkeypox. Both belong to the Orthopoxvirus genus. The existing smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective at preventing monkeypox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Gale says fewer similarities exist between COVID-19 and monkeypox. As a DNA virus, monkeypox is unlikely to produce as many variant strains as do RNA viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The World Health Organization is investigating the modes of transmission involved with the current monkeypox outbreak. The virus historically has spread between people through close physical contact and exposure to lesions, bodily fluids, respiratory droplets, and possibly through contaminated materials such as bed sheets.

Download broadcast-ready soundbites of Michael Gale Jr. discussing the characteristics of monkeypox.

UW Medicine