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Summa Health Answers Your Top Questions About Monkeypox

Posted September 19, 2022 by Thomas File, MD

Cut out with dots

Everywhere you turn, headlines are reporting on the latest virus to hit our country: monkeypox. At the time of this post, nearly 11,000 cases have been confirmed since the virus began spreading across the country in May and the United States declared it a public health emergency earlier this month.

But what is monkeypox? Who’s most at risk? What are the symptoms? Summa Health answers your top questions about monkeypox to help reduce your risk of infection and slow the spread. Knowledge is the first step in prevention.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It’s part of the same family of viruses that cause smallpox; however, monkeypox symptoms are milder and rarely fatal. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.

Severe disease can be seen in children under age 8, people with weakened immune systems or who are pregnant, and people with a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema.

What are monkeypox symptoms?

The predominant symptom of monkeypox is a rash, also known as “pox.” However, before the rash occurs, it is common to have initial symptoms such as fever and flu-like symptoms; but the rash may be the first manifestation.

Some people start with flu-like symptoms, then a rash appears one to four days later, while others only experience the rash or sores. The rash can initially look like pimples or blisters and can be painful or itchy.

Monkeypox symptoms can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Respiratory symptoms, such as sore throat, nasal congestion or cough
  • A rash or sores, which can appear on or around the genitals, as well as other parts of the body, including the hands, feet, chest, face or inside the mouth

How long do symptoms persist?

Monkeypox symptoms typically start within three weeks of exposure. Most people fully recover after two to four weeks without the need for medical treatment.

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox spreads through close, physical contact, including:

  • Direct, skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox rash, sores, body fluids or scabs
  • Contact with objects the virus has come into contact with, such as clothing, bedding and towels
  • Breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person, such as coughing, sneezing, talking or breathing. However, airborne transmission typically requires prolonged face-to-face contact.

When is a person with monkeypox contagious?

A person infected with monkeypox is contagious for several weeks, from when symptoms appear until all sores have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.

Who is most at risk for monkeypox?

Anyone can catch monkeypox, and those people who have close contact with an infected person are most at risk. Also, people who have traveled outside the country to areas with confirmed cases are at a higher risk.

At this time, data suggest that men who have sex with men and have recently had multiple or anonymous partners make up the majority of cases in the current outbreak. However, anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.  

How can I protect myself against monkeypox?

The best way to protect yourself from monkeypox is to wash your hands often with soap and water and avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Also, don’t share utensils or cups with a person confirmed to have monkeypox.

In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for people exposed to monkeypox or those at a higher risk of exposure.

What should I do if I’ve been exposed or infected?

If you have been in close contact with someone confirmed to have monkeypox or notice a new or unexplained rash or other symptoms compatible with monkeypox, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

You may be tested for the virus by using a swab to rub against the rash.   

If you have monkeypox, you are advised to isolate at home until your monkeypox rash has healed and a new layer of skin has formed.

Staying away from other people and not sharing things you have touched with others will help prevent the spread of monkeypox.


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