Here's information about the virus — what it is, how you get it and ways to prevent infection.
Monkeypox has been making headlines in recent weeks, as cases increase worldwide and throughout the United States. This may have you worried that the virus will reach pandemic status like COVID-19, but monkeypox is a virus that behaves very differently. Knowing the facts about this virus should help ease any concerns you have. It will also make you better prepared to protect yourself from getting sick.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that is related to smallpox. It can cause a rash, swollen lymph nodes and flu-like symptoms. In most cases, it causes relatively mild illness. Although it can be uncomfortable and painful, most people don't wind up in the hospital from monkeypox and it rarely causes death.
How do you get monkeypox?
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox doesn't easily spread to people without close intimate contact. The most common way it spreads is through direct contact with an infected person's bodily or respiratory fluids or by touching a person's infectious rash. It may also spread by touching clothing or linens that touched an infectious person's rash or bodily fluids.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
The most easily identifiable symptom of monkeypox is a rash that looks like small, pus-filled pimples or blisters (pox). The rash may appear in only one area of the body, such as the face, hands, chest or genital area, or it may appear all over the body. The rash is typically very painful. Other symptoms may include:
- Headache/muscle aches/backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
Typically, flu-like symptoms start first. After a few days, the rash develops. The lesions fill with pus, and about a week or two later, they scab over and people start to feel better. It may take another week or so for the scabs to fall off. People are contagious from the first flu-like symptoms until the scabs fall off.
What should you do if you think you've been exposed to monkeypox?
It can take one to two weeks for this virus to develop after someone has been exposed. That's good news because it means you can take steps to avoid illness after exposure. Vaccines and antiviral treatments are available. You can get a monkeypox vaccine after you are exposed to stop or lessen the severity of the illness if you do get it. There is also testing available, so if you or someone you know thinks you may have monkeypox, it's best to get tested. If you have the virus, isolate yourself from other people and pets.
How is there already a vaccine for monkeypox?
Monkeypox is not a new virus. It was first discovered in humans in 1970, although until recently, cases were mostly confined to Africa. The virus is similar to smallpox and the same vaccine that protects against smallpox is being used to protect against monkeypox. If you have been vaccinated against smallpox in the past, the CDC says that vaccine provides about 85% protection against monkeypox. The chickenpox vaccine does not offer any protection.
Do I need to worry about getting monkeypox?
While everyone should take precautions to avoid developing any type of illness, this virus is likely not going to affect the general public on a widespread basis — even if it's a big headline-grabber on the news. The virus is currently spreading mostly among men who have sex with men, but that doesn't mean you can't get the virus otherwise. Monkeypox is most contagious when a person has noticeable symptoms and an active rash, so avoid close contact with anyone who appears to have monkeypox-related symptoms. If you have been exposed or are at high risk of exposure, talk to your doctor about whether you should get vaccinated.
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Date Last Reviewed: July 27, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD