Updated: 2022, Sep 22

Should Senior Citizens Be Worried About the Monkeypox Epidemic?

Hirsch says that monkeypox is most likely to spread between people that have prolonged skin-to-skin contact with each other.

We Are All At Risk

As we find ourselves just beginning to find a possible end to the COVID pandemic, a new serious illness looms on the horizon. Over the last few months, the healthcare community has shifted its attention to a condition known as monkeypox. Much of the coverage related to monkeypox and monkeypox prevention has been geared towards adults ages 21 to 45, as they’ve been deemed higher risk for contracting the illness.

Should Senior Citizens Be Worried About the Monkeypox Epidemic?
Senior Citizens and Monkeypox Epidemic. Image/Shutterstock

In fact, very little attention has been given to the risk of seniors contracting the virus. While adults north of 55 seem to be at lesser risk of contracting monkeypox, the threat is still very real. Diseases and illnesses are rarely, if ever, exclusive to certain age groups. Monkeypox is no exception.

While seniors shouldn’t be as concerned about monkeypox as some other age groups, you should still take steps to prevent contracting the illness. We’ve worked with the writers at MedicareInsurance.com to create a short guide designed to help you be aware of the following:

  • The signs and symptoms of monkeypox
  • The potential dangers of monkeypox
  • How to prevent contracting monkeypox
  • How to help stem the spread of monkeypox

Read on to learn why, as a senior, you should be concerned about this new illness, and how you can avoid catching or spreading it.

What Does Monkeypox Look Like?

Monkeypox is an illness with very high-visibility symptoms. Like chicken pox, monkeypox presents as a rash that appears in the form of small pimples or blisters. Due to the method by which scientists have found that the illness is most commonly passed on, the rash most commonly appears in private areas. It may also appear on the following:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Chest
  • Face
  • Mouth

While most individuals who contract the illness only present with a rash, flu-like symptoms may be experienced by others before or after the appearance of the rash. For instance, you may experience:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Symptoms of respiratory distress (cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, etc.)
  • Fatigue

Symptoms begin to appear within 3 weeks of initial exposure to the monkeypox virus. Those who present with flu-like symptoms first will typically develop their rash 1 to 4 days later. If you contract the virus, you should know that the contagious period lasts until your rash has completely healed. In most cases, the illness lasts anywhere from two weeks to a full month.

How is Monkeypox Spread?

At the moment, given the demographic spread, scientists have concluded that the monkeypox virus spreads primarily through intimate contact, primarily by same-sex intimate partners. However, spread isn’t limited exclusively to same-sex intimate partners. 

Let’s say you’re a grandparent to an adult grandchild. You give your grandchild a friendly hug or a kiss on the cheek. If your grandchild has monkeypox and they don’t know it, you won’t know that, either. This means that they’ve just unwittingly spread this illness to you. Even just having face-to-face contact with someone who has monkeypox can cause you to catch the virus.

In some cases, you may come in contact with objects and fabrics that have been used by individuals who currently have, or have had, the monkeypox virus. Even just the slightest contact with these objects can pass the illness on to you.

Even animals are not immune to this virus. An owner who has monkeypox can spread the virus to their pets, or someone who works with food and animal products can spread monkeypox to such products just by making contact. If you are bitten or scratched by an animal with the virus, or you eat or use an animal product that has been tainted by the virus, you will catch it. 

I’ve Read About the Virus and Seen Who it Commonly Affects. Why, As a Senior Citizen, Should I Be Concerned?

Any virus or other illness can be serious, or even fatal, to people of any age. As a senior citizen, you run a higher risk of illnesses being fatal to you because your defenses to viruses and other illnesses begin to weaken. Your immune system becomes more easily compromised, meaning that no matter how healthy you think you are, most illnesses can be a serious threat to you. This includes illnesses like monkeypox.

Look at it this way: a childhood illness like chicken pox becomes more dangerous as you age. The older you are when you contract chicken pox, the greater the potential for fatal complications. Especially in seniors, rashes that come with viruses such as chicken pox or monkeypox can lead to life-threatening infections. Mild flu-like symptoms can lead to extreme respiratory distress. These complications are a major reason why you should be concerned about contracting this illness.

As monkeypox is a relatively new illness, there’s still research to be conducted on how the virus affects certain age groups. At the moment, research is indicating that the virus is commonly spread between individuals who regularly engage in social same-sex intimate contact. However, this does not mean that you, as a senior citizen, are not at risk for contracting the virus. We all, in fact, are at risk.

How Do I Protect Myself From Catching the Monkeypox Virus?

Given how dangerous the monkeypox virus can be to you if you catch it as a senior citizen, it’s very important that you know how to protect yourself from it. Much like with any other illness, the best way to make sure you keep from catching the virus is to wash your hands as often as possible. If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently when in public to kill germs on the surface of your hands.

It’s especially important to wash your hands or sanitize them before or after:

  • Eating
  • Touching your face
  • Using the restroom

If someone you know, whether personally or socially, has contracted the monkeypox virus, you should avoid making any sort of physical contact with them. Even if they have a rash that looks like monkeypox and you aren’t really sure if they have the illness, you’re better off avoiding physical contact. You should also avoid using any of the following objects that have been previously used by someone with monkeypox:

  • Eating utensils and cups
  • Bedding
  • Towels
  • Clothing

Another way to prevent contracting the virus is to get vaccinated. Many healthcare providers offer a vaccine that will protect you against the monkeypox virus. The vaccine is given in two doses, and your protection against the vaccine is highest two weeks after your second dose. If you are particularly social, it’s best practice to exercise caution when interacting with others until two weeks after your second dose.

Exercise Awareness, But Do Not Fear

If you’re a particularly active senior, whether you belong to the LGBTQIA+ community or you identify as heterosexual, it’s important to be aware of the spread of the monkeypox virus in your own community. This means you should exercise caution by modifying or avoiding behaviors that will put you at risk, but you shouldn’t fear being an active part of your community.

While there is no specific treatment for monkeypox, specific treatments and services may help you fight the worst of the flu-like or rash symptoms that appear as part of the virus. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, your plan may help you cover some of the treatment for many of the symptoms. If you want to learn more about what a plan may or may not cover, our friends at MedicareInsurance.com can help answer your questions!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Larry Johnson is a copywriter for MedicareInsurance.com. He has several years of experience in creating informative content for a variety of industries on topics that matter, including healthcare. 

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Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Dr.Joel Fuhrman Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a family physician, NY Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher.

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