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What is Monkeypox? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment And Prevention

Monkeypox: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
Submitted and Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mavra Farrukh


While the world still hasn’t recovered from Covid, another threat called monkeypox has arisen. The following article covers everything that you need to know about monkeypox so that you are fully equipped to counter a threat if one occurs. 

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a relatively uncommon disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Similar to smallpox, the monkeypox virus belongs to a group of viruses called Orthopoxvirus. 

Monkeypox’s origin can be traced back to 1958, when two outbreaks of this disease occurred in groups of monkeys targeted for research. It’s mainly spread through human contact with infected rodents. However, spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who is infected can occur.

What is the monkeypox virus?

There are two identified strains of monkeypox. The strain that which has resulted in outbreaks outside of Africa in 2022 is less severe than the strain in the Congo region. The strain responsible for this current outbreak is similar to the one that caused the disease in West African countries. However, mild illness has been reported in most people infected with that virus.

How common is monkeypox?

Although Monkeypox virus infection is rare, the number of cases is also increasing outside Africa. Therefore, the disease is now of global public health importance.

Since May 2022, multiple cases of monkeypox have been identified in several non-endemic countries. As a result, ongoing studies are being carried out to understand the monkeypox cause, transmission and epidemiology.

The natural host of the monkeypox virus

Various animal species have been noticed to be susceptible to the monkeypox virus. These are rope squirrels, tree squirrels, dormice, non-human primates and Gambian pouched rats. However, much is still unclear regarding the natural history of the monkeypox virus and further studies are required for a better understanding of the virus. 

Are you losing sleep over the monkeypox outbreak? Talk with our doctor!

What is monkeypox caused by?

Monkeypox is caused by a virus from the same family that caused smallpox. However, monkeypox disease is usually milder than smallpox. It was first isolated in monkeys and was given the name monkeypox. Even though rodents have been identified as the primary carriers of the virus. The World Health Organization plans to rename the illness because the name monkeypox may be misleading. The smallpox vaccine promises to offer some protection against the monkeypox virus. However, the disease may more likely affect those who have not been vaccinated against smallpox. 

In humans, monkeypox is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, rash or contracted through respiratory droplets. In addition, close personal or sexual contact can cause a person to become infected. 

Symptoms of monkeypox

The incubation period (duration from exposure to onset of symptoms) of monkeypox is from six to thirteen days but can range from 5 to 21 days.

Mainly monkeypox symptoms include:

The monkeypox virus symptoms can be divided into two periods:

  • The invasion period: usually lasts between 0–5 days. Early-stage monkeypox is characterised by fever, intense headache, swelling of the lymph nodes, back pain, muscle aches and fatigue. Swollen lymph nodes are a standout feature of monkeypox compared to other diseases that may initially appear similar to measles, smallpox or chickenpox. 
  • The rash phase: After a few days, a monkeypox rash develops. One to three days after a person develops a fever, a skin eruption, bumps/sores or rash can occur. Monkeypox on the face is the most common presentation of the rash (95% of the cases), followed by a rash on soles and palms(75% of the cases) rather than on the trunk. The rash begins as red bumps, which can be painful. The bumps convert into blisters, which then fill with pus. The blisters then crust over and fall off. The entire process can take two to four weeks. Monkeypox sores can appear in your mouth or genital region. In severe cases, lesions can merge, and portions of skin can slough off.

Everyone does not experience symptoms when infected with monkeypox. Some may experience mild monkeypox symptoms. Presently, in the current outbreak, many cases are not portraying the usual pattern of symptoms. This atypical presentation includes only a few sores/blisters, mild fever and no swollen lymph nodes. You may have contracted monkeypox and be unaware. Even if you don’t show signs of monkeypox, you can still spread it to others through prolonged close contact.

Is monkeypox curable?

Signs and symptoms of monkeypox can last for two to four weeks. People typically recover on their own without treatment. If you have been diagnosed with the infection, your physician will monitor your condition and treat your symptoms. An approved antiviral treatment for monkeypox is currently unavailable, but antiviral drugs may help manage the condition. 

How is monkeypox diagnosed?

Monkeypox can be confused with infections such as measles or chickenpox. Therefore, a doctor may suspect other infections first. However, swollen lymph nodes usually distinguish monkeypox from other conditions with similar symptoms. 

In order to diagnose monkeypox, a tissue sample from an open sore is taken and sent to a lab where polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is done. In addition, a blood sample may be drawn to check for the monkeypox virus or antibodies to the monkeypox virus. 

How does monkeypox spread?

​​Monkeypox is a virus transmitted when you come into contact with an animal or a person infected with the virus. The symptoms are usually similar to those experienced by those with smallpox, although it is less severe.

Animal-to-human transmission can occur through broken skin, like bites, scratches, or direct contact with infected bodily fluids, sores or animal blood.

Monkeypox has a possibility to spread from person to person, but this transmission is less common. A person can get infected by coming in contact with an infected person’s sores, respiratory droplets or oral fluids. This includes close contact, such as kissing or having sex. It hasn’t been established for sure whether the virus is transmitted through vaginal fluids or semen, but research is still ongoing. 

You can get monkeypox if you come in contact with contaminated clothing or other linens used by an infected person.

How long does monkeypox last?

Typically, monkeypox takes two-four weeks to resolve. However, if you have a history of contact or exposure to monkeypox, your doctor will monitor you until your rash settles.

Do you have fluid-filled blisters that resemble a monkeypox rash? Consult with our doctor to find out more.

Monkeypox Treatment

There isn’t any specific monkeypox cure, and many people recover on their own. People who develop severe symptoms from monkeypox can be treated with antiviral medications. Treatment for smallpox may be used, although limited data is available regarding its effectiveness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends antiviral treatment for people with severe monkeypox disease, immunocompromised patients, pregnant women, and children younger than eight following consultation.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved vaccines for monkeypox virus prevention. One such monkeypox vaccine is Jynneos. Vaccines may lessen the severity of the symptoms when administered within four days after exposure. Therefore, doctors may recommend vaccines for those who have had recent exposure. Additionally, many antivirals are being tested to ensure their effectiveness and safety.

How to prevent monkeypox?

A smallpox vaccine protects monkeypox, but its use is currently limited to clinical trials. Prevention is primarily based on reducing human contact with infected animals and decreasing person-to-person transmission. The most effective ways for monkeypox prevention include:

  • Avoid contact with infected animals.
  • Avoid contact with bedding and materials contaminated with the virus.
  • Cook animal meat thoroughly.
  • Avoid close contact with those infected with the virus.
  • Practice safe sex, and use condoms and dental dams.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. 
  • Wear a mask in crowded areas.
  • Disinfect the frequently touched surfaces.

What to Do If You Are Exposed to Monkeypox?

As per CDC recommendations, people exposed to the virus should monitor themselves for three weeks after the exposure. Then, if you don’t develop any symptoms, you can resume your normal activities. Although, you should not donate blood, breast milk, semen or organs during this period.

Follow these steps:

  • Record your temperature twice a day.
  • If you develop a fever (100.4 or above), swollen lymph nodes, rash or chills, you should immediately self-isolate. You will need to inform your state health department for further guidance.
  • If you don’t have a fever or rash and have swollen glands or chills, you should isolate yourself at home for the next 24 hours.
    • Contact your local health department if you develop a fever during this time.
    • If you don’t develop a fever but have swollen lymph nodes and chills after 24 hours, you must contact your doctor for further evaluation.

What is the difference?

Monkeypox vs Chickenpox

Monkeypox is caused by an orthopoxvirus, while the herpes virus causes chickenpox. Although, both conditions can present with rashes. Both viruses can be transmitted through skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact. Among the two, chickenpox is more contagious and spreads faster than monkeypox. In addition, those with monkeypox are more likely to have swollen lymph nodes than those with chickenpox.

The chickenpox rash usually worsens over time, while the monkeypox sores develop simultaneously. Chickenpox symptoms typically improve within two weeks, while it can take two weeks to four weeks for signs of monkeypox to go away completely.

Monkeypox vs Smallpox

Monkeypox and smallpox both belong to the orthopoxvirus family, so similar viruses cause them. Vaccination helped eradicate smallpox by 1980. However, smallpox was highly contagious and spread more rapidly than monkeypox. Monkeypox symptoms are somewhat milder.

How contagious is monkeypox?

People with monkeypox are usually contagious until the rash has entirely resolved. This includes the entire period from the appearance of a blister that turns into a scab, falls over, and eventually, new skin covers the area.  

Who does monkeypox affect?

The monkeypox virus can affect anyone. In Africa, children under 15 years old are mostly affected. Outside the region, the disease is more common among homosexuals. However, cases have been reported in other people as well.

Is monkeypox deadly?

Data from some African countries indicates that some strains of monkeypox have a fatality rate ranging from 1% to 10%. 

Is monkeypox more severe than COVID-19?

Monkeypox is a mild disease and this current outbreak has an extremely low mortality rate. However, it can be a threat to children and people with immunodeficiency conditions. 

Interesting facts about monkeypox

  • The monkeypox virus, a member of the Orthopoxvirus, causes monkeypox.
  • Monkeypox usually resolves within 2 to 4 weeks. 
  • Monkeypox can present with a fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes. It may lead to a range of medical complications.
  • Vaccines that were initially used during the smallpox eradication programme also provide some protection against monkeypox. Although newer vaccines have been approved for the prevention of monkeypox
  • Monkeypox spreads in humans when they come in close contact with an infected person or animal. It can also be transmitted by coming in contact with material contaminated with the virus.
  • Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with sores, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.
  • An antiviral medication used to treat smallpox has also been used for the treatment of monkeypox.
  • The clinical presentation of monkeypox resembles that of smallpox. However, smallpox was eradicated in 1980. Monkeypox is milder and less contagious than smallpox. 

When to Consult a Doctor

If the recent circulating stories around the monkeypox virus have scared the wits out of you, the best way to settle your nerves is to connect with our online doctor at Your Doctors Online. 

Chat With a Doctor to get all your questions answered regarding Monkeypox!

FAQs About Monkeypox Answered by Your Doctors Online Team

Is monkeypox dangerous?

Mostly, the symptoms of monkeypox subside in a few weeks. However, in some people, complications can develop. Infants, children and people with underlying immune deficiencies lie in the high-risk group.

Is monkeypox fatal?

Monkeypox can sometimes lead to the development of complications such as pneumonia, secondary skin infections, and eye problems. According to studies, between 1% to 10% of people affected with monkeypox have died.

Can monkeypox be treated?

The disease is self-limiting in nature. Antivirals can help manage the symptoms in severe cases. Vaccines developed for smallpox have proven to be effective against monkeypox.

How long does monkey pox last?

It can take between 5-21 days for symptoms to initially appear, although the incubation period is 6-13 days. It can take 3 to 4 weeks post-infection for a person to recover completely.

How do you catch monkeypox?

Monkeypox is transmitted through close physical contact. It is passed from animal to person or person to person. The contact needs to be prolonged. For example, it could be contact with someone with lesions, rash, scabs or bodily fluids.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that 98% of the infections in various countries were reported in men who have sex with men.

What should you do if you are exposed to monkeypox?

As per CDC recommendations, people exposed to the virus should monitor themselves for three weeks after the exposure. You can go about your normal routine if you don’t develop any symptoms.
If you have an active rash or other symptoms, stay in a room and report to the local health department. 

What can I do to avoid monkeypox?

Your chances of getting the virus can be reduced by avoiding close physical contact, including sexual contact, with someone exposed or infected with the monkeypox virus. Furthermore washing hands properly and frequently, wearing face masks and disinfecting surfaces and objects in your home can help lower the risk of transmission. 

How is monkeypox transmitted?

The virus is transmitted in the following ways:
Direct contact with monkeypox rash, body fluids, and respiratory secretions from an infected person.
Close contact, including sexual activity, hugging or kissing.
Touching contaminated surfaces such as unwashed objects, clothing, bedding, or towels used by someone with monkeypox.

Does monkeypox spread through sex?

Monkeypox can spread through close contact. Oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone infectious can also lead to transmission. While the monkeypox virus has been isolated in semen, it cannot be concluded whether monkeypox can be contracted through semen or vaginal fluids. Although to be safe, people with monkeypox are instructed to use condoms for 12 weeks after recovery.

Where did monkey pox come from?

Monkeypox was first reported in 1958 at a lab in Demark in monkeys imported from Singapore. In 1970, the first case was reported in a 9-month-old boy in Congo.

Is monkeypox curable?

Although, for now, there is no definite cure for monkeypox. Monkeypox generally settles on its own within two to four weeks. Antivirals are being used in cases to manage the symptoms as well.

Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?

Two forms of vaccines are available which have been proven to be effective against monkeypox:
ACAM2000, the smallpox vaccine
JYNNEOS, a newer vaccine
The vaccine has proven to be around 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, although further studies are required. 

Does monkeypox itch?

The monkeypox rash can be itchy, painful or both. The blisters later on scab over. Mainly, symptoms improve within 2 to 4 weeks.

Why is it called monkeypox?

It was first discovered in monkeys in a lab in Denmark and has been referred to as monkeypox. Even though the virus does infect monkeys, they’re not considered the primary reservoir for the disease.

What is monkeypox in humans?

Monkeypox is a disease that results from being infected with the monkeypox virus.
Common symptoms include:
sore throat, cough, and nasal congestion
swollen lymph nodes
body aches

How many cases of monkeypox in the US?

The monkeypox outbreak has spread rapidly in the US. In early July, 500 cases were reported. Currently, the number has increased to 7,000 cases. 

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