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Monkeypox Symptoms, Treatment Options, and FAQs

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is an illness caused by the monkeypox virus. It can pass among people, causes a flu-like illness and rash, and usually resolves in weeks. It is rarely fatal, and proper precautions can prevent its spread.

What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Symptoms usually start within one to two weeks of exposure to someone with the virus. A rash appears in almost everyone who contracts a monkeypox infection. Before the rash appears, some people experience flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Back pain.
  • Chills.
  • Exhaustion or feeling unusually tired.
  • Fever
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

A skin rash can develop that can look like a pimple or bumps filled with clear fluid or pus. A potential complication of monkeypox is proctitis. This is an inflammation of the lining of the rectum that can cause belly pain or pain when having a bowel movement.

Not everyone develops these symptoms, but a rash is the most common illness that the virus causes. The rash may appear within one to three days after the appearance of flu-like symptoms.

The rash can look different as the illness progresses. It can include raised, fluid-filled bumps (clear or pus). They become crusty scabs and fall off over the course of two to four weeks. The rash can be painful or itchy and may involve the eyes, mouth, genitals, or anus.

In some people, the rash spreads to many parts of the body, but in other people, it affects only one area of the body.

Is Monkeypox Contagious?

Symptoms of monkeypox often appear about one to two weeks after exposure to the virus. But the range can go anywhere from five to 21 days. Patients are infectious from initial symptoms until all skin lesions crust and fall off and a fresh layer of intact skin forms. The rash may last two to four weeks.

How Does Monkeypox Spread?

Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with body fluids, rash, or sores of someone who has monkeypox.

Because the virus spreads through contact, areas of skin that come in contact with an infected person may be the first or only area of the rash.

Monkeypox may spread through direct contact with materials that have touched infected body fluids or sores. This includes clothing, towels, or bedding.

Monkeypox may also spread through respiratory droplets or the large mucous droplets of someone who has monkeypox. But it does not spread easily by air and needs close contact with an infected person.

What You Can Do to Avoid Catching Monkeypox

  • Always practice good hand/body hygiene and personal cleanliness.
  • Avoid close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox or someone who has monkeypox symptoms.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. But close physical contact during sex can allow the virus to pass person-to-person. Everyone who comes in close contact with a contagious person is at risk, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
  • Talk to your friends and family about any recent illness. Be aware of new or unexplained sores or rashes on your body or on their bodies, including the genitals and anus. If you or your friends and family members have recently been sick, currently feel sick, or have a new or unexplained rash or sores, avoid close physical contact and see a health care provider.
  • Monkeypox can infect certain animals, particularly mammals. But there are no documented cases of monkeypox transmission from humans to animals. Avoid contact with sick animals that have been in contact with an infected person. People who have monkeypox should minimize contact with their pets until they are well.
  • Be alert for people who have a rash combined with a history of travel to areas with cases of monkeypox, or contact with a person known or suspected to have monkeypox.

Testing for Monkeypox

If you have monkeypox symptoms, talk to your doctor. Testing requires a sample of the skin rash, which can take place in most clinical settings.

When to Contact Your Doctor

You should contact your doctor if you:

  • Had exposure to someone with monkeypox.
  • Have a rash along with flu-like symptoms, especially if you traveled to a country with confirmed cases of monkeypox.
  • Had skin-to-skin contact, including intimate contact or sex with an unfamiliar partner.
  • Had contact with a sick animal that was in contact with an infected person.

Treatment for Monkeypox

  • Most people recover without treatment, other than using over-the-counter medicines that help with symptoms, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) for pain and fever.
  • Contact your doctor to discuss treatment.
  • Doctors may recommend a vaccine after symptoms begin to reduce the risk of serious complications. A vaccine can prevent, or decrease the severity of, monkeypox.

Considerations for Monkeypox Treatment

If you suspect you have monkeypox, contact your doctor or your local health department. Medication isn't recommended for everyone as the illness should resolve on its own. At UPMC, the monkeypox vaccine or medications such as tecovirimat (Tpoxx®) are reserved to help patients who had exposure to monkeypox, or patients who have severe symptoms and/or are at high risk of severe disease.

Monkeypox Vaccine FAQs