What Is Monkeypox

The infectious disease monkeypox began spreading globally in the spring of 2022, including in the United States.

In July 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern.” U.S. health officials followed suit, declaring monkeypox a federal public health emergency in August 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring the monkeypox outbreak in the United States. Before the 2022 outbreak, monkeypox was rare in the U.S.​

The monkeypox virus is from the same virus family as the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms but are generally less severe, and the disease is typically not fatal.

Learn more about monkeypox, including symptoms and how it spreads.

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis, meaning it is a virus that passes from animals to humans. It causes a disease that creates similar symptoms to smallpox but is less severe overall. You can get monkeypox through contact with an infected animal or person.

Knowledge of monkeypox dates to 1958, when there were two outbreaks found in colonies of research monkeys.

Usually, the monkeypox virus is found in animals indigenous to western and central Africa. Until the current outbreak, it has spread between people but not widely and rarely in multiple countries.

But in May 2022, countries around the world began reporting much higher case numbers than normal. As of July 2022, the WHO reported monkeypox cases in 75 countries and territories across the world. That includes many countries that had never seen the disease before.

Many cases are occurring in Europe. These cases were the first reported in Europe without a known link to Africa, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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How Does Monkeypox Spread?

You can get monkeypox through contact with an infected animal or person, according to the CDC. Monkeypox can enter your body through broken skin, through your respiratory tract, or through your eyes, nose, or mouth.

The virus can spread from the start of symptoms until a rash fully heals. That can be anywhere from two to four weeks. People without symptoms can’t spread the virus to others.

Many of the cases in the current monkeypox outbreak involve men who had sexual contact with other men. But anyone can get monkeypox.

According to the CDC, the most common methods for person-to-person spread include:

  • Direct contact with an infected person’s rash, scabs, or bodily fluids.
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact (kissing, cuddling, or sex).
  • Touching infected items like clothing or linens.
  • From a pregnant mother to a fetus through the placenta.

The risk of transmission is generally low. Most human-to-human transmission happens through direct contact with pox lesions. Monkeypox can also spread by respiratory droplets, which requires prolonged face-to-face contact.

You can get monkeypox from contact with infected animals, too. This includes getting scratched or bitten, preparing or eating infected meat, or using products from an infected animal.

What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox but usually less severe. Monkeypox is typically not fatal.

A rash appears in nearly everyone who contracts a monkeypox infection. Before the rash appears, some people have flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Fever.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue/exhaustion.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Chills.
  • Back pain.

The rash appears within a few days of flu-like symptoms. The WHO says symptoms usually appear within six to 13 days after being exposed. However, it could take more or less time for symptoms to appear.

The rash usually goes through several stages — spots, bumps, fluid- and then pus-filled pox lesions, and finally scabs — before falling off. It can appear on your face, inside your mouth, or on other areas of your body like your hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.​ However, some people only develop a rash in a small area and some only have bumps or pox-filled lesions.

Symptoms usually last for two to four weeks.

Is Monkeypox Treatable?

Monkeypox is often mild enough to not need treatment. There is no specific treatment for monkeypox. Because smallpox and monkeypox are similar, some treatments for smallpox may be effective against monkeypox.

Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have symptoms of monkeypox.

Can I Prevent Monkeypox?

Vaccines to prevent monkeypox are not available to the general public at this time. There are two vaccines, ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS, that people who are exposed to monkeypox can get up to 14 days after exposure. If given within four days of exposure, the vaccine may prevent infection. If given within four to 14 days, it may help prevent severe symptoms.

Monkeypox vaccines may be available to eligible, at-risk individuals through state or local health departments or health providers.

UPMC received a very limited supply of the vaccine. The vaccine is going to patients who are eligible according to public health criteria. That includes patients who were exposed, patients with severe symptoms, and/or patients who are at risk for severe disease.

You cannot directly schedule a vaccine. Call your doctor or the local health department if you were exposed to monkeypox and/or you have symptoms.

UPMC will continue to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Allegheny County health officials for providing vaccinations. For more information, check the Allegheny County Health Department website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

If you have had prolonged contact with someone who has or is suspected of having monkeypox, contact your doctor or your local or state health department to see if you are eligible for vaccination. Monitor yourself for symptoms. If symptoms develop, you should self-isolate and call your doctor or the health department for guidance.

Besides vaccination, you can protect yourself by avoiding prolonged contact with people or animals who are suspected of having monkeypox.

Health care workers and household members of people with monkeypox may be at greater risk. They should take greater precautions, including using personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining good hand hygiene.

Should I Be Worried About Monkeypox?

Monkeypox cases are generally mild and go away within a few weeks. Stay home if you are sick, and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick, including people with an unknown rash.

If you are sick, you should isolate yourself until your rash is completely healed. Wear a facemask that covers your mouth and nose and cover your rash any time you are around others.

As with any emerging health condition, you should stay up to date on the latest information. Follow sources like the CDC, FDA, and your local and state health officials for updated guidance.

At UPMC, we are committed to providing the latest information as this story continues to develop.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Sources

BBC, What Is Monkeypox, and How do You Catch It? Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monkeypox. Link

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Epidemiological Update: Monkeypox. Link

Daniel Victor, The New York Times, What to Know About Monkeypox. Link

World Health Organization, Monkeypox. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.