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What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease caused by monkeypox virus. It got its name when it was discovered in lab monkeys in 1958. This virus is similar to the one that causes smallpox, but is less contagious and usually causes a milder disease.

In the past, monkeypox cases were most common in central and western Africa, in those who recently traveled to those areas, and people who had contact with imported animals. But now, monkeypox is spreading outside of Africa in people who have not traveled or had contact with imported animals.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Monkeypox causes fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes , and a rash. The rash begins as flat spots that turn into bumps, which then fill with fluid. Some people develop spots that look like pimples or blisters before having any other symptoms. The bumps crust and fall off as they heal. The rash can be painful or itchy. Usually, people feel better within 2 to 4 weeks. But sometimes the virus can make a person very ill.

How Does Monkeypox Spread?

The monkeypox virus can spread from close contact with infected people or animals.

Someone can become infected if they:

  • have contact with blood, body fluids (such as during sexual contact), or fluid from the blisters
  • use bedding or other items contaminated by the virus
  • breathe in the virus

It can take 5 to 21 days after exposure for symptoms to start.

Who Is at Risk of Getting Very Ill With Monkeypox?

Young children, pregnant women, people with a weak immune system, and people who have severe eczema are more at risk to become very ill if they get monkeypox.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Kids can get rashes from many different causes. If anyone in your family develops a new rash that looks like pimples or blisters, or has other possible symptoms of monkeypox, call your doctor so they can find out what is causing the symptoms. 

Also let the doctor know if anyone in your family has had contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox.

Can Monkeypox Be Prevented?

Smallpox vaccines are effective against monkeypox infection, and a vaccine created to prevent both smallpox and monkeypox is available, if needed.

As with many germs, washing hands well and often, masking, and avoiding contact with sick people and animals can help protect someone from getting sick.

How Is Monkeypox Treated?

A person with monkeypox needs to stay home and keep away from other household members to avoid infecting anyone else. They may be told to take over-the-counter medicines for fever, pain, or itching. As with other infections, it is important to stay well hydrated.

Doctors can prescribe an antiviral medicine for people who are at high risk for getting very sick from monkeypox.

Reviewed by: Karen A. Ravin, MD
Date Reviewed: Aug 5, 2022

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