Aug 17th, 2022

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are tracking an outbreak of monkeypox that has spread across several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the United States. The White House declared monkeypox a national public health emergency on August 4, 2022 and the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in late July 2022.

What it is

Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 and despite being named "monkeypox", the source of the disease remains unknown.

Monkeypox causes a rash.
Its symptoms are usually mild or moderate and typically resolve within 2-4 weeks.
Monkeypox is rarely fatal.

What it feels like

The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. You may have fever, chills, sore muscles, headache, or tiredness. Within 1 to 3 days after the appearance of fever (sometimes longer), the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks.

  • Sometimes, you may get a rash first, followed by other symptoms
  • You might only get a rash without having the other symptoms. The rash may look like pimples or blisters
  • The rash is usually on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of your body like your hands, chest, and genitals
  • Other symptoms include: backache, swollen lymph nodes
  • If you have a weakened immune system (from HIV, cancer, an organ transplant, or other reason), are pregnant, or have other skin problems like eczema, you may become more severely ill from monkeypox

You should see a healthcare provider as soon as you get symptoms that could be from monkeypox.

How it spreads

Individuals are not infectious prior to the onset of symptoms. Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. This can take weeks.

Monkeypox spreads when a person comes into contact with the virus from an infected animal (e.g. being scratched or bitten), materials contaminated with the virus (e.g. touching objects or fabrics that previously touched the rash or body fluids of someone with monkeypox), or infected people. Between people, it spreads primarily through:

  • Direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or body fluids (including during intimate contact)
  • Respiratory droplets during prolonged, face-to-face contact

Anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox should talk to their healthcare provider, even if they don’t think they had contact with someone who has monkeypox.

How to stay safe

The best way to protect yourself from monkeypox is to avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone who has a rash that looks like monkeypox. Generally, you may:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox
  • Avoid contact with objects and materials that a person with monkeypox has used
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating or touching your face and after you use the bathroom

If you know someone who's been diagnosed with monkeypox:

  • Avoid contact with them if possible
  • If you must be within 6 feet of them, you should wear a respirator or well-fitting mask and they must wear a well-fitting mask
  • Do not share or touch their silverware, cups, sheets, blankets, towels, or clothing
  • If you touch shared objects, you should wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

If you are sexually active, talk to your partner about any recent illnesses. Be aware of any new or unexplained rashes on your body or theirs, including the genitals and butt. If you or your partner have recently been sick, currently have symptoms of monkeypox, or have a new or unexplained rash, do not engage in intimate contact. Always consult with your healthcare provider about testing or treatment.

Other questions

Are there treatments available?
There are no treatments specifically for monkeypox virus infections. However, antiviral drugs used to treat smallpox may be used to treat monkeypox infections. Always consult with your healthcare provider about testing, vaccinations, or treatments.

Am I at risk?
Anyone can contract monkeypox. To date, many—though not all—of reported cases have been among gay and bisexual men. However, anyone can get monkeypox regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, background or demographic.

Should I get vaccinated?
The CDC recommends vaccination only if you have been in close contact with people who have monkeypox. Eligibility for vaccination varies, but typically includes groups considered to be at high risk for monkeypox, including:

  • People who have been in close physical contact with someone with monkeypox in the past two weeks
  • People who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox cases
  • People whose jobs may expose them to monkeypox, including some healthcare or public health workers

The preferred vaccine to protect against monkeypox is Jynneos. The alternative is the ACAM2000 vaccine, but it is not recommended for people with weakened immune systems and has the potential for more side effects. Consult your healthcare provider about testing and vaccine eligibility.

Not another virus! Is monkeypox like COVID-19?
No. Monkeypox is much less contagious and less likely to cause severe illness or death than COVID-19. The spread of monkeypox is also different than the early stages of COVID-19 in a few key ways:

  • There is already a vaccine for monkeypox
  • Monkeypox can be treated with available antiviral medicines
  • While COVID-19 passed easily from person to person, monkeypox does not spread as easily between people. Monkeypox transmission typically requires skin-to-skin contact, direct contact with body fluids, or prolonged, close face-to-face contact

Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Sex is just one of the ways that monkeypox can be spread. However, any close, sustained skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox can spread the virus. The contact does not have to be exclusively intimate or sexual.

Source: CDC and Public Health Collaborative