Monkeypox virus in a probe

What Is Monkeypox and Are You at Risk?

Highlights

  • Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus. 
  • Monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person, infected animal, or contaminated materials.
  • Monkeypox symptoms resemble smallpox, but it is less contagious and typically less severe than smallpox.
  • Mild cases of monkeypox typically last two to four weeks.
  • There are currently two vaccines approved to prevent monkeypox for people who are at high risk of contracting the virus.
  • Monkeypox can be spread through sex, but it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 

Monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States. This viral infection is mild in most healthy people, but it can have severe health consequences for some. Fortunately, monkeypox can be prevented in similar ways to other viral infections. 

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus. This virus is in the same family as the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, though it’s typically a milder infection than smallpox.

The two types of monkeypox are clade I and clade II. Recent infections have been caused by the clade II variant. 

Monkeypox Symptoms

Hand with monkeypox

Most people with monkeypox will have symptoms similar to smallpox. The most common symptoms include a skin rash and flu-like symptoms. The rash typically appears after flu-like symptoms have already started. 

The most noticeable symptom is a rash that initially looks like pimples or blisters. The skin lesions consist of fluid-filled blisters that eventually dry up and fall off your body. They can appear on or near your genitals, anus, face, chest, or extremities. 

Other common symptoms include:

  • Back aches
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion 
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat or cough
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Most people begin showing symptoms within three weeks of exposure. Symptoms typically last two to four weeks, but you can spread the virus until the rash has completely healed. 

Monkeypox Complications

Most cases of monkeypox do not result in severe complications. However, it’s important to monitor for symptoms and seek medical care to prevent complications. Monkeypox is rarely fatal. 

Potential complications include:

  • Blindness
  • Scars from lesions
  • Susceptibility to other infections 

Men with monkeypox are at risk for penile and urinary complications. Skin rash on the genitals can cause severe swelling of the penis and testicles, which can also compromise the urethra. Some men may seek medical consultation, suspecting they have a sexually transmitted infection. 

Monkeypox Transmission and Risk Factors

Monkeypox is transmitted through close contact with an infected person, infected animal, or contaminated materials. It’s spread through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or fluid from sores or saliva. It can also be spread from a pregnant person to their fetus during pregnancy. 

You may catch monkeypox through:

  • Direct contact with rash, scabs, or fluids from a person with monkeypox
  • Touching objects, fabrics, and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox
  • Direct contact with respiratory secretions, such as through prolonged face-to-face contact
  • Being scratched or bitten by an infected animal 
  • Eating meat or using products from an infected animal

Is Monkeypox Spread Through Sex?

Since monkeypox is spread through close contact, it can be transmitted during sex or other intimate contact. This means it can be spread through kissing, cuddling, oral sex, or penetrative sex. However, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 

Anyone who has been in close personal or physical contact with a person with monkeypox can become infected. Close personal or physical contact does not have to be intimate or sexual in nature to spread monkeypox. 

Monkeypox has been found in semen, but it’s unclear if it can be transmitted through vaginal fluids.

Who Is at Risk for Monkeypox?

Anyone who has close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at the highest risk of infection. This includes sexual or intimate contact or sharing living spaces with someone who has monkeypox. Healthcare workers who interact with patients who have monkeypox may also be at an increased risk for infection.

People who live with or who have sexual contact with people who have monkeypox should take steps to keep themselves safe from infection. People with weakened immune systems may need to take additional precautions, as they may be more susceptible to complications from infection.

The most recent monkeypox infections within the United States have predominantly been among men who have sex with men (MSM). However, you are at risk for monkeypox if you’ve had close contact with someone who has monkeypox, regardless of your sexual orientation.

Monkeypox Diagnosis

Testing is currently only recommended for people who have a rash. Visit a doctor if you have monkeypox symptoms or have had close contact with someone with monkeypox. Your provider may swab your rash and send it for laboratory testing to confirm your diagnosis. 

How Is Monkeypox Treated?

There are no treatments specifically approved for monkeypox infections. Fortunately, antiviral drugs created to treat smallpox may be used to help manage monkeypox infections. 

Most people with monkeypox are encouraged to rest, drink fluids, and manage their pain. People with monkeypox should stay home and isolate themselves from other people and their pets until their rash fully heals. 

Some people may require more intensive clinical care. They may be placed on antiviral medications, given fluids, prescribed medication for pain, or given antibiotics for secondary infection. 

Monkeypox Prevention

Washing hands

You can prevent monkeypox the same way you prevent other viral infections. You can take steps at home to stay healthy and avoid infection.

Prevention measures include:

  • Avoiding close, personal or intimate contact with people who have monkeypox symptoms
  • Avoiding contact with objects, fabrics, or surfaces that a person with monkeypox has used
  • Washing your hands with soap and water before eating or touching your face and after using the bathroom
  • Limiting your number of sexual partners
  • Checking yourself and your partners for rash if you are having sex with multiple partners or people exposed to monkeypox
  • Talking to sexual partners about risk, monkeypox symptoms, and testing
  • Using barrier methods, like condoms and dental dams, when having sex

Don’t forget to talk to your sexual partner(s) about testing for STIs while you’re discussing monkeypox. Rashes around the genitals could signal an STI, like herpes. Practicing open and honest communication about your sexual health can keep you and your partner(s) safe. 

Is There a Vaccine for Monkeypox?

There are currently two vaccines approved to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. These vaccines are the JYNNEOS vaccine and the ACAM2000 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking prevention steps and getting vaccinated if you are at higher risk for monkeypox. 

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