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Stopping the spread: How a smallpox drug is being used against monkeypox

Monkeypox has popped up in all 50 states. But now, researchers are using an antiviral pill known as T-POXX to help fight new cases.

Monkeypox – it’s an unfamiliar virus that’s spreading everywhere, prompting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency. While the CDC cautions gay and bisexual men that they may be at the highest risk, other health experts say everyone, including kids, should take steps to avoid the spread.

The 2022 monkeypox outbreak started with a cluster in the United Kingdom on May 6th, and two weeks later, the first case was reported in the United States. Now, monkeypox has been reported in every single state.

Internal medicine doctor, David Winter, MD at Baylor Scott & White Health, said, “The concern is how do we stop it? There's a vaccine out there that does work, but in very short supply, hard to come by.”

And once you get it, how do you treat it?

“There's an antiviral pill that also helps, called T-POXX, which is also in short supply right now, hard to come by,” Dr. Winter explained.

T-POXX is classified as an investigational drug for monkeypox. It was initially created in case of a bioterrorist smallpox attack. People who have taken a two-week course of the antiviral pills say they feel better within two days, but the government warns they only have 1.7 million courses in their national stockpile.

“T-POXX is a medication [that] stops the replication, stops a duplication of the virus in your body. So, it's very effective – if you can get one," Dr. Winter explained further.

Because monkeypox and smallpox share similar symptoms, Tembexa is another FDA-approved anti-viral – first approved to treat smallpox. But experts fear that as kids head back to school, the spread will only get worse.

“I think we should teach the kids that no more hugging, no high fiving, no wrestling on the school grounds right now, because that's the way you can spread this particular disease,” Dr. Winter said.

Experts say prevention really is the best way to handle monkeypox, right now – avoiding skin-to-skin contact. It’s important to note that U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any therapies specifically for the treatment of monkeypox.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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