Understanding Monkeypox and Chickenpox: Are They Connected?

February 29, 2024

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Have you wondered whether having chickenpox makes you immune to the monkeypox virus that is currently spreading globally? This question is based on the fact that both chickenpox and monkeypox cause rash-like skin lesions. However, the truth is that these two viral diseases are caused by different viruses and there is no cross-immunity between them.

Demystifying Monkeypox and Chickenpox

To understand the relationship between monkeypox and chickenpox, we first need to learn a bit more about each disease separately.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the orthopoxvirus family alongside other viruses like smallpox and cowpox. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name.

The virus spreads through close contact with an infected person or animal. Transmission can occur through:

  • Touching monkeypox skin lesions or body fluids
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact
  • Sharing contaminated objects like clothing or bedding

After an incubation period of 5 to 21 days, infected people develop symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash with fluid-filled skin lesions (hallmark monkeypox symptom)
  • The rash often starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body

In severe cases, complications like sepsis, encephalitis, and eye infections can occur. There are currently no proven, safe treatments for monkeypox infection. Supportive treatments focus on relieving symptoms and preventing complications.

Vaccination against smallpox has proven 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. But routine smallpox vaccination ended globally by the 1980s after the disease was declared eradicated. Today, most people below 50 years of age likely have little to no immunity against either smallpox or monkeypox.

What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus of the Herpesviridae family. The virus spreads easily through the air via coughing or sneezing by an infected person.

After an incubation period of 10 to 21 days, infected people develop symptoms like:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Malaise
  • Itchy skin rash with fluid-filled blisters (hallmark chickenpox symptom)
  • The rash often starts on the face/torso then spreads across the entire body

Complications are rare but occasionally severe with bacteria entering and infecting open skin blisters. Treatments focus on relieving itching and fever using medications like acetaminophen, antihistamines, antiviral drugs, etc.

The varicella vaccine has made chickenpox easily preventable. In fact, most children today receive this vaccine as part of routine immunizations. Getting vaccinated results in milder symptoms and quicker recovery if one does get infected later in life.

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The Connection and Differences

Now that we understand monkeypox and chickenpox separately, let’s analyze if and how they might be connected.

Despite some symptomatic similarities, monkeypox and chickenpox are caused by very different viruses. However, both viruses belong to the wider orthopoxvirus family. Other orthopoxviruses include:

  • Cowpox virus: A mild infection sometimes contracted from pet cats/rodents
  • Vaccinia virus: Used in the smallpox vaccine to elicit cross-immunity

So while monkeypox and chickenpox themselves cannot cause cross-immunity, exposure to some other orthopoxviruses can provide partial protection against both.

Key differences between Monkeypox and Chickenpox

While monkeypox and chickenpox share a few common symptoms, they differ quite drastically in various aspects:

Transmission

  • Monkeypox: Close physical/skin contact, contaminated objects
  • Chickenpox: Respiratory transmission through air

Symptoms and Complications

  • Monkeypox: More severe symptoms and higher complication rate
  • Chickenpox: Milder symptoms in most healthy individuals

Treatment Options

  • Monkeypox: No proven, safe treatments available
  • Chickenpox: Multiple antiviral medications available

Vaccines

  • Monkeypox: Smallpox vaccine offers ~85% protection
  • Chickenpox: Highly effective varicella vaccine widely available

These key differences make it evident that monkeypox and chickenpox are quite unrelated in terms of disease progression, transmission patterns, and prevention strategies.

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Immunity and Vaccination

The next logical question is – can previous chickenpox infection or vaccination provide any immune protection against monkeypox?

Does having Chickenpox make you immune to Monkeypox?

The short, simple answer is no. Having chickenpox, whether through natural infection or vaccination does NOT make you immune to monkeypox in any way.

As discussed above, monkeypox and chickenpox are caused by very different viruses. Infection by one does not produce the antibodies needed to fight off infection by the other. They require separate vaccinations to produce protective immunity.

So if you have had chickenpox in childhood or received the varicella vaccine, you are still as susceptible to catching monkeypox today as someone who hasn’t.

Importance of vaccination for both Monkeypox and Chickenpox

While the chickenpox vaccine does not prevent monkeypox, getting vaccinated for both diseases individually carries tremendous benefits:

For individuals:

  • Reduces risk of getting infected
  • Diminishes infection severity if contracted
  • Lowers transmission to friends/family members

For communities:

  • Slows down spread during outbreaks
  • Gradually enables herd immunity as more people protected
  • Upholds public health by eliminating risks of resurgence

Today, most global health authorities recommend extensive vaccination against both monkeypox and chickenpox to control current outbreaks and prevent future epidemics.

In fact, the WHO recently declared monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – urging coordinated global action including accelerated vaccination programs wherever possible.

Resources for information and vaccination

Here are some credible resources for further information and updates on monkeypox and chickenpox vaccination programs in your region:

Global Health Agencies:

Regional Health Departments:

You should consult your doctor or local health department to learn about vaccine eligibility and availability near you. Getting vaccinated protects not just yourself but everyone around you too against these contagious viral diseases.

Takeaways

To conclude, here are the key points to remember:

  • Monkeypox and chickenpox are caused by different viruses within the same family, requiring separate vaccinations.
  • Having chickenpox does not offer protection against monkeypox.
  • Vaccination for both monkeypox and chickenpox is crucial for individual and public health.

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FAQs

What are the symptoms of monkeypox and chickenpox?

Common symptoms for both include fever and rash/skin lesions. But monkeypox lesions are more painful, severe, longer-lasting than chickenpox blisters.

How are monkeypox and chickenpox transmitted?

Monkeypox – close skin/bedding contact. Chickenpox – airborne respiratory transmission.

Who is at risk for monkeypox and chickenpox?

Anyone without vaccination or previous exposure. Higher risk – healthcare workers, close contacts of infected, immunocompromised, children.

What vaccines are available for monkeypox and chickenpox?

Monkeypox – Smallpox vaccine offers 85% protection. Chickenpox – highly effective Varicella vaccine.

Where can I get vaccinated for monkeypox and chickenpox?

Check availability with your doctor or local health agencies. Global vaccination campaigns rolling out for both.

Please let me know if you would like me to modify or expand any section of this article. I aimed to cover all the key points outlined while writing an optimized and reader-friendly article.

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