What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is an illness caused by the monkeypox virus. It’s related to smallpox, but milder. It can cause a rash and flu-like symptoms. Monkeypox is found mostly in West and Central Africa. But recently, it’s spread to people in other countries.
The virus causing monkeypox was first discovered in monkeys. It can infect people and other types of animals.
How does it spread?
Monkeypox spreads by close contact with an animal or person with the virus. It can spread person to person by:
- Having close skin-to-skin or direct contact with the rash or sores of someone with monkeypox; this is the most common way monkeypox infects people
- Handling the clothing, bedding, towels or objects used by someone with monkeypox
- Being exposed to droplets in the air without skin-to-skin contact; however, this is not common and happens only if there is close face-to-face contact for a long time
Short interactions that do not include physical contact are not high risk.
Most of the monkeypox cases in the U.S. have been in men who have sex with men. But monkeypox can infect anyone. If you have close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox, you can get it.
At this time, chances of getting monkeypox in the U.S. are thought to be low. Monkeypox does not spread easily between people.
What are the symptoms?
If you’re exposed to monkeypox, it can take one to two weeks to get symptoms. These may include:
- A fever, headache, muscle or back ache, chills, exhaustion or sore lymph nodes
- A painful rash that may look like bumps, blisters or ulcers
- The rash may be all over your body or limited to one area; in the current outbreak in the U.S., the rash is often limited to the genitals
Call your doctor right away if you get an unexplained rash or sores anywhere on your body. Tell your doctor you’re worried you may have monkeypox. Don’t have sex or close physical contact with anyone until you see your doctor.
Avoid high-risk situations
- Do not have skin-to-skin contact in group settings.
- Talk with your sexual partner about any recent illness. Note any new or unexplained sores or rashes anywhere on your body or your partner’s body.
- Be aware that the rash caused by monkeypox can be confused with other sexually transmitted diseases. If you notice a rash, call your doctor.
What if I'm exposed?
If you’ve had contact with a person or animal with monkeypox, watch for symptoms for 21 days. If you don’t get symptoms during this time, you can do regular daily activities.
If you have a fever, headache, fatigue, weakness and/or enlarged lymph nodes with a rash after exposure to monkeypox, call your doctor.
Is there a treatment?
Monkeypox usually goes away on its own. Most people get better in two to four weeks. Infections with the type of monkeypox in the U.S. rarely cause death.
While there are no medications specifically for monkeypox, the monkeypox and smallpox viruses are similar. This means the vaccines and medications used for smallpox may be also used for monkeypox.
If you're at risk for severe disease, your doctor may suggest medications or vaccinations to care for or prevent monkeypox. Individuals at higher risk for severe disease with monkeypox include:
- People with HIV
- Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Children under age 8
- People who have or have had atopic dermatitis (eczema)
Your public health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will determine if you should get a vaccine.
To learn more about monkeypox and the vaccines, read these FAQs from the CDC.
How do I prevent monkeypox?
Steps to take include:
- Don’t have skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
- Don’t share eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.
- Don’t touch the bedding, towels or clothing of someone with monkeypox.
- Limit the number of partners you have sex and intimate contact with.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
People who have sex with multiple unknown partners are at higher risk for getting monkeypox.