• Lauren Elaine Davidson

Massage & Monkeypox - What You Need to Know

Spoiler: Don't panic. It's pretty easy to avoid with standard precautions.

We’re not done with COVID, not by a long shot (public behavior notwithstanding), and now we have warning signals of another contagious viral infection that is behaving in ways we haven’t seen before—monkeypox.

Monkeypox is a viral infection first identified in monkeys in 1958, and in humans in 1970. It is a member of the Orthopoxvirus family, along with smallpox and cowpox. Monkeypox is similar enough to smallpox that anyone vaccinated against smallpox has protection from monkeypox, which is good news for older folks. The worldwide campaign to vaccinate against smallpox was so effective, however, that the virus was essentially eradicated in the wild, and routine vaccination in the US was suspended in 1972. That means people under 50 years old probably have not been vaccinated for smallpox, so they lack protection from monkeypox.

Human-to-human spread occurs through direct, often intimate, contact with a symptomatic person, or prolonged indirect contact with their bedding, clothing, or other intimate items. Researchers believe it may also be spread through respiratory droplets, as well as by way of contact with infected skin lesions. It is communicable from the onset of symptoms through when the skin lesions are fully healed.

The recent versions of monkeypox show some variety in presentation. In the most typical form, infections typically incubate for 1–2 weeks after exposure. Then patients may develop fever, discomfort, and inflamed lymph nodes. This is followed by a painful rash with blisters that then fill with pus, and eventually become itchy as they scab over and heal over a course of 2–4 weeks. The rash may be all over the body, or local to the site where the infection was contracted. However, some people don’t experience fever and inflamed lymph nodes: their first symptoms are the characteristic blisters.

What does all this mean for massage? We know a few things about monkeypox that can help us feel confident about receiving bodywork. The main issue to keep in mind is that while the practice of massage therapy involves touch and close contact, this infection does not appear to be communicable in asymptomatic people. If you have fever, a feeling of overall weakness, and swollen lymph nodes, you need to delay your massage—that is true in all cases, not just for monkeypox. If you have undiagnosed blisters, pustules, or scabs that started as blisters, you should investigate this with your primary health-care provider before receiving massage. Again, this is true for all circumstances, not just monkeypox.

As always, I continue to make sure that I’m practicing proper sanitation, hygiene and standard precautions at all times. Unfortunately, massage therapists are currently not on the priority list for SF vaccine clinics. But, trust me, I will be monitoring this very closely! In the meantime, following proper precautions and sanitation procedures helps protect both clients and massage therapists.

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