Monkeypox declared public health emergency: What Airmen and Guardians need to know

  • Published
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency on July 23. With more than 4,000 cases in the United States, Airmen and Guardians should know the risks and how to stay safe.

Monkeypox is primarily spread from person-to-person through prolonged close contact with an infectious rash, scabs or body fluids, as well as through respiratory droplets or oral fluids. Additionally, spread can also occur through the handling of objects such as bedding or clothing belonging to a person with a known infection.

Vaccine and Treatment

The Food and Drug Administration has approved vaccine for monkeypox, however it is in limited supply in the United States. The Department of Defense is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure all service members, stateside and overseas, have vaccine within 24 to 48 hours.

Members who have questions and concerns, or want to know their vaccine eligibility should contact their military treatment facility. Patients who receive care outside of the MTF should contact their local provider.

The current guidance on who can get vaccinated prioritizes those who are a known contact identified through public health contact tracing, as well as those who have had sexual contact in the last 14 days with an individual who was infected or had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in an area with known monkeypox cases. Additionally, those whose jobs may expose them to monkeypox, such as laboratory workers who handle monkeypox specimens, are advised to receive the vaccine.

“If you believe you fall into one of these categories, then you need to quickly reach out to your provider to get assessed and confirm the need for the vaccine,” said Lt. Col. David Sayers, Chief, Preventive Medicine, Air Force Medical Readiness Agency.

Airmen and Guardians should seek medical care immediately if they believe they have come in close contact with someone with a known infection or have a suspected infection themselves.

“Please do not wait to seek medical attention if you believe you are infected or a close contact,” said Sayers. “While the current outbreak has mostly been seen among men, anyone can be at risk of getting infected. Children, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised are most at risk of severe complications should they become infected.”

Isolation is recommended for the duration of the illness if an individual is confirmed to have monkeypox. Treatment is primarily supportive care to treat the pain, rash, fever and body aches, especially for young, healthy individuals. Currently, there are no specific medications licensed to treat monkeypox.


The most prominent monkeypox symptom includes a rash that classically starts on the face and distributes to the extremities. In the current outbreak, the rash has been found to be distributed mostly to the genital area in some people. Symptoms also include fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue.

The time from infection to the presentation of symptoms is usually seven to 14 days, but may range from five to 21 days total.

“The rash goes through stages where it shows up as a pimple and evolves into a pustule. That pustule then opens up and scabs over before healing,” said Sayers.

More information and resources about monkeypox are located here.