Making Sense of Monkeypox: What You Need to Know

Aug. 2, 2022

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the same group of viruses as smallpox (variola) and the virus used to develop the smallpox vaccine (vaccinia). Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox. Learn more about monkeypox from the CDC.

Who is at risk for monkeypox?

Anyone can become infected with monkeypox. Unfortunately, sexual and gender minorities are currently being disproportionately affected.

How severe is monkeypox illness?

Fortunately, monkeypox is rarely fatal. According to the CDC, over 99 percent of people who are infected with the type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak—the West African type— are likely to survive. But, it can cause severe illness in some, especially those at high risk, including people who are immunocompromised, pregnant, elderly, or under 8 years old. Most people with monkeypox will have a mild illness, but the rash can be extremely painful for some, depending on where it is on the body.

How do I know if I have monkeypox…what are the symptoms?

Most people with monkeypox will get a rash. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes/glands and fatigue. Sometimes people get a rash first, followed by additional symptoms. Others only experience a rash. Learn about signs and symptoms from the CDC

What does monkeypox look like?

The CDC web site includes images of what the monkeypox rash may look like; you can view the images here.

How do you get monkeypox?

You need to have close, personal, and often skin-to-skin contact to get monkeypox from someone else. It can spread through direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs or body fluids from a person with monkeypox, or with the clothing or bedding of an infected person. Less commonly, the virus can spread via respiratory droplets after close and prolonged face-to-face contact (such as kissing). 

Monkeypox can spread through sexual contact, but that is not the only way it can spread. “Sexual contact is by no means the only way this disease can be transmitted,” says Paul Graman, M.D., professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “There is the possibility that the virus could be present in semen or vaginal fluids, but we don’t know at this point. Right now, as far as we know, the infectious lesions are mainly responsible for the ongoing spread.”

According to the CDC, a person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. Learn more.

Is monkeypox contagious?

Yes. Anyone can get monkeypox if they are in close contact with the infectious lesions on another person or the clothing or bedding of an infected person, or if they have extended face-to-face contact with someone who is infected. Researchers are working to figure out if the virus can be spread when someone has no symptoms, and how often the virus is spread through respiratory droplets. Monkeypox is much less contagious than COVID.

How is monkeypox diagnosed?

Monkeypox infection is confirmed using a test that detects viral DNA from a sample obtained by swabbing a lesion or lesions.

What should I do if I have monkeypox?

If you notice a new rash on your body you should contact your primary care physician or another health care provider. Monkeypox rash can look like some other diseases, so it is important to seek guidance. Call your health care provider before going to their office or if you think you may need to go to an urgent care center or emergency room.

Is there a monkeypox vaccine available?

Yes, the Jynneos vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of monkeypox virus infection. When given before or after an exposure, the vaccine can be an effective tool for protecting people against monkeypox illness.

For the latest updates on vaccine supply and who should receive the vaccine visit the CDC’s Considerations for Monkeypox Vaccination page or the Monroe County Department of Public Health site.

Will the smallpox vaccine protect against monkeypox?

If you got the smallpox vaccine when you were a kid it may offer some protection against monkeypox. But, because vaccines weaken over time, experts recommend you get the monkeypox vaccine if you are eligible.

“There is some expectation that those of us who received the smallpox vaccine when we were kids would have some leftover immunity,” says Graman. “Most smallpox vaccinations have not been given in a very long time; we shouldn’t rely on protection from a shot we got years ago.”

What are the treatment options for monkeypox?

Many people with monkeypox will have a mild illness and won’t require treatment. Some people may need over-the-counter medication to manage pain caused by the rash. Individuals whose pain cannot be well-controlled or who have trouble staying hydrated may require hospitalization.

People with monkeypox who are at high risk for or have severe illness may qualify for an antiviral medication called tecovirimat (TPOXX). If you have symptoms and test positive for monkeypox, you should talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.