Updated August 2, 2022

Monkeypox is a very rare disease that's normally linked to travel in West and Central Africa. It's somewhat similar to the smallpox virus. It's called monkeypox because it was first discovered in 1958 when colonies of monkeys kept for research developed a pox-like disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently investigating clusters of monkeypox in several countries that don't normally report monkeypox, including in the U.S. 

How monkeypox spreads

A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the onset of symptoms until the rash has fully healed (scabs have fallen off) and a new layer of skin has formed. In the current outbreak, monkeypox is primarily spreading during oral, anal and vaginal sex, as well as other intimate contact such as kissing and cuddling.

The virus can spread through:

  • Direct contact with body fluids or sores on an infected person
  • By touching materials that have touched an infected person's body fluids or sores, like clothing or linens
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, like a long conversation with a friend, or intimate contact, like kissing or cuddling with someone

Experts are currently studying whether the virus can spread through genital fluids, saliva, feces and other bodily fluids.

People can spread the virus when they have symptoms. Experts are studying whether the virus can spread before symptoms start or after they end.

Monkeypox symptoms 

The illness usually begins within 2 to 3 weeks of exposure. The most common symptom is a rash or sores that look like pimples or blisters. These may be all over the body or just in certain parts, such as genitals, anus, face, arms, hands, legs, feet, chest or back. Sores in the anus or the urethra can make it difficult to go to the bathroom. Some people also have flu symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes.

Preventing monkeypox

To prevent monkeypox, you can:

  • Ask your health care provider whether you might be eligible for the Jynneos vaccine. This is currently in very short supply but being distributed to people who are at highest risk for monkeypox, including those with a recent exposure to monkeypox
  • Avoid sex and other intimate contact with multiple or anonymous partners
  • Avoid contact with materials, such as bedding, that have been in contact with a sick person or animal
  • Practice regular handwashing and hand sanitizing, especially after contact with animals or someone who is sick 

Treating monkeypox

There is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox. Most people get better on their own without treatment. However, antivirals for smallpox may help. Your provider can help determine whether you are eligible for antiviral treatment. They may also be able to provide medication for symptom relief.

If you develop symptoms concerning for monkeypox, please isolate from others immediately and talk to your health care provider, particularly if you've had close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of monkeypox.

Learn more by visiting other helpful monkeypox resources.

Media contact

Taylor Wilson

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