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Monkeypox: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 23, 2021

What Is Monkeypox?

A rare illness in the same family as smallpox, it happens when you’re infected with the monkeypox virus. Scientists first noticed the disease in 1958 in a group of lab monkeys used for research. Monkeypox has also been found in certain rodents and other primates in Africa.

The first known human infection was in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On July 15, 2021, the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed a human case in a U.S. resident who traveled from Nigeria to Dallas.

Symptoms of Monkeypox

It typically takes between 1 and 2 weeks after exposure to get sick from the monkeypox virus, but it could take as long as 3 weeks. Symptoms include:

One to 3 days after your fever starts, a rash shows up. It typically starts on your face before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash is more common on the hands, feet, arms, and legs. It also tends to follow a particular pattern: Flat, round lesions (macules) grow into slightly raised bumps (papules), then into bumps filled with clear fluid (vesicles). These then change into bumps with yellowish fluid (pustules) that crust over and fall off.

How You Get Monkeypox

Any infected animal or human can pass the virus to someone else through blood, other bodily fluids, or monkeypox lesions on the skin, including inside the nose and mouth. Contact with things that touched these bodily fluids could also pass it on.

The virus gets in your body through a break in the skin, which you might not see, or through the mouth, nose, or eyes. You could also breathe it in, but you’d probably have to be in close contact for a fairly long time. That’s because larger droplets don’t travel very far.

How Serious Is Monkeypox?

The illness typically runs its course in 2 to 4 weeks. It can be quite serious, especially in children who were exposed to a lot of the virus or in people with other health conditions or weak immune systems.

In some cases, there may be thousands of lesions that grow together and cause the loss of large sections of skin at once. Up to 10% of people who contract monkeypox die from the disease, typically in the younger age groups.

Possible serious complications from monkeypox include secondary infections like:

Diagnosis

Your doctor will look at your lesions and ask you in detail about your symptoms, such as when you likely came into contact with the virus. They’ll try to rule out similar conditions like:

A laboratory test can tell whether you have monkeypox.

Smallpox Treatment

There is no specific treatment recommended for monkeypox. Your doctor can help keep you comfortable and try to ward off serious complications with rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter meds. Some doctors suggest a smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) to help control the spread of monkeypox in the U.S.

Initial research seems to suggest that those with vaccination against smallpox may have some protection against monkeypox, resulting in a milder illness.

Prevention

  • Stay away from animals that might have the virus, especially dead animals in areas where monkeypox is common.
  • Stay away from bedding and other materials that have touched a sick animal.
  • Separate infected persons or animals from others at risk for infection.
  • If you have to be close to an animal or person with the virus, wash your hands with soap and water often.
  • Use protective gear like masks, safety goggles or glasses, and gloves if you can’t avoid contact.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Personal Protective Equipment,” “Monkeypox,” “CDC and Texas Confirm Monkeypox In U.S. Traveler.”

ISU College of Veterinary Medicine Center for Food Security and Public Health: “Monkeypox.”

World Health Organization: “Monkeypox.”

Photo Credit: Science Source

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