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What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral disease that can be spread between animals and humans. It is present in several Central and West African countries, though Monkeypox cases linked to international travel or imported animals have occurred in people outside of Africa. Monkeypox cases in the U.S. are rare. The main disease carrier of monkeypox remains unknown; however, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may hold the virus and infect people.

Since early May 2022, cases of monkeypox have been reported from countries that don't normally report monkeypox, including the United States. This outbreak of the monkeypox virus is spreading mostly through close, intimate contact with someone who has monkeypox.

How is monkeypox spread?

Humans can get monkeypox from an infected animal through a bite or direct contact with the infected animal's blood, body fluids, or sores. Monkeypox can also be spread person to person through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, including:

  • Direct contact with monkeypox rash, sores, or scabs
  • Contact with objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox
  • Through respiratory droplets, secretions, or oral fluids from a person with monkeypox
  • This contact can happen during intimate sexual contact, including:
    • Oral, anal, and vaginal sex or touching the genitals or anus of a person with monkeypox
    • Hugging, massage, or kissing and talking closely
    • Touching fabrics and objects during sex that were used by a person with monkeypox, such as bedding, towels, and sex toys

How long after exposure to monkeypox do symptoms begin?

The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The illness often or may begin with:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion

Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after a fever, a rash (often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body) occurs. Lesions progress through several stages before falling off. The illness typically lasts for 2−4 weeks, and a person is considered infectious from when symptoms begin until lesions have crusted, those crusts have separated, and a fresh layer of healthy skin has formed underneath.

Although rarely fatal, symptoms can be extremely painful, and people might have permanent scarring resulting from the rash.

Is there a treatment for monkeypox?

There is no specific treatment for monkeypox, although antivirals for smallpox may be used in those with high risk for severe illness.

How can monkeypox be prevented?

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox. Avoid:
    • Touching the rash or scabs of person with monkeypox.
    • Kissing, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox.
    • Sharing eating utensils or cups with a person with monkeypox.
    • Handling or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
  • Isolate infected people from others who could be at risk for infection.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after contact with infected animals or humans.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for sick people.
  • Avoid contact with animals that could harbor the virus (including animals that are sick or that have been found dead in areas where monkeypox occurs).

If you have a new, unexplained rash or other monkeypox symptoms:

  • See your healthcare provider right away
    • If you don't have a provider or health insurance, contact your local health department for resources.
    • When you see a healthcare provider for possible monkeypox, remind them that this virus is circulating in the community.
  • Avoid sex or being intimate with anyone until you have been checked out.

If you are diagnosed with monkeypox:

  • Follow the treatment and prevention recommendations of your healthcare provider.
  • Avoid sex or being intimate with anyone until all your sores have healed and you have a fresh layer of skin formed.