What is Monkeypox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What is Monkeypox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It leads to rash and flu-like symptoms. Like the better known virus that causes smallpox, it’s a member of the family called orthopoxvirus.

Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in groups of monkeys being used for research. It’s spread mainly through human contact with infected rodents, but can sometimes be spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who is infected. There are two known types (clades) of monkeypox virus — one that originated in Central Africa and one that originated in West Africa. Cases outside of Africa are often due to:
  • International travel
  • Imported animals
  • Close contact with an animal or person with monkeypox
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors cases that have been reported in countries that don't often have monkeypox, such as the United States. In the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, the CDC is monitoring many cases of monkeypox throughout the world, including Europe and the United States.

Monkeypox symptoms

People with monkeypox get a rash that may be located on or near the genitals (penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or anus (butthole) and could be on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. The rash can initially look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. Monkeypox symptoms may start 5 to 21 days after you're exposed. The time between when you're exposed and when you have symptoms is called the incubation period.

Other symptoms of monkeypox can include:
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Headache
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)

You may experience all or only a few symptoms
  • Sometimes, people have flu-like symptoms before the rash.
  • Some people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms.
  • Others only experience a rash.

How long do monkeypox symptoms last?

Monkeypox symptoms usually start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.

Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.

How do you catch Monkeypox?

Monkeypox can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose or mouth.

It has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be passed on by close contact.

Guidance is advising anyone with the virus to abstain from sex while they have symptoms.

While there is currently no available evidence that monkeypox can be spread in sexual fluids, people confirmed to have the virus are advised to use condoms for eight weeks after infection as a precaution.

It can also be spread by contact with infected animals such as monkeys, rats and squirrels, or by virus-contaminated objects, such as bedding and clothing.

How does the monkeypox virus spread?

The monkeypox virus causes monkeypox. The monkeypox virus spreads through close contact with an infected animal or person. Or it can spread when a person handles materials such as blankets that have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox.

The monkeypox virus spreads from person to person through:
  • Direct contact with rashes, scabs or body fluids of a person with monkeypox.
  • Extended close contact (more than four hours) with respiratory droplets from an infected person. This includes sexual contact.
  • Clothes, sheets, blankets or other materials that have been in contact with rashes or body fluids of an infected person.
  • An infected pregnant person can spread the monkeypox virus to a fetus.
Monkeypox spreads from an animal to a person through:
  • Animal bites or scratches
  • Wild game that is cooked for food
  • Products made of infected animals
  • Direct contact with body fluids or rashes of animals with monkeypox

How dangerous is Monkeypox?/What are the complications of monkeypox?

Most cases of the virus are mild, sometimes resembling chickenpox, and clear up on their own within a few weeks.

Monkeypox can sometimes be more severe, however, and has been reported to have caused deaths in west Africa.

Monkeypox complications can include:Severe scars on the face, arm and legs
  • Blindness
  • Other infections
  • Death, in rare cases
The type of monkeypox virus spreading in the 2022 outbreak, called the West African type, rarely leads to death.

Remember that monkeypox is rare in the U.S. and the monkeypox virus doesn't spread easily between people without close contact. But if you have a new rash or any symptoms of monkeypox, contact your health care provider.

What can I do to prevent becoming infected with or spreading the monkeypox virus?

Take these steps to prevent infection with or the spread of the monkeypox virus:
  • Avoid close contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
  • Avoid handling clothes, sheets, blankets or other materials that have been in contact with an infected animal or person.
  • Isolate people who have monkeypox from healthy people.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water after any contact with an infected person or animal.
  • Avoid animals that may carry the virus.

Some smallpox vaccines can prevent monkeypox, including the ACAM2000 and Jynneos vaccines. These vaccines can be used to prevent monkeypox because smallpox and monkeypox are caused by related viruses.

Health care providers may suggest that people who have been exposed to monkeypox get vaccinated. Some people who are at risk of being exposed to the virus in their work, such as lab workers, may get vaccinated too.

The CDC doesn't recommend that everyone get vaccinated against monkeypox at this time.

What is the treatment?

Outbreaks can be controlled by infection prevention. Vaccination against smallpox has been proven to be 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. The UK has bought tens of thousands of doses of the smallpox vaccine and some high-risk close contacts of people infected will be offered one to reduce the risk of symptoms appearing. Antiviral drugs may also help and the UK has approved one, called tecovirimat, for this.

Should the public be concerned?

Health protection teams are contacting people who've come into close contact with confirmed cases and are at high risk. They are offering advice and monitoring them.

They are advising anyone else who has been in close contact with someone infected by monkeypox to isolate at home for up to 21 days.

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