What you need to know about monkeypox
In this article:
A Swedish infection control expert answers your questions about this rare virus.
Monkeypox is spread by person-to-person contact and can be particularly dangerous for immunocompromised people.
Monkeypox is treatable. An FDA-approved vaccine is available.
With case numbers of the monkeypox virus rising, federal health officials this week announced plans for a vaccination campaign in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. While the World Health Organization (WHO) said in June that the virus wasn’t yet a public health emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 5,000 cases worldwide, with more than 350 of them in the United States. We spoke with Evan Sylvester, Regional Director of Infection Prevention at Swedish, to learn more about the virus, how it spreads and what we can do to keep the outbreak from getting worse.
“The risk of contracting monkeypox for the general population is low and locally there have been no healthcare worker transmissions after caring for a confirmed patient. There are higher risk individuals, such as those that have multiple sexual partners and those that have been in close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox,” says Evan. “To put it in perspective, the monkeypox virus is much less transmissible than COVID-19.”
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. The strain that is currently circulating in the 2022 outbreak has so far been the West African clade, which is less deadly than the Congo Basin clade, which we have not seen. Monkeypox is not related to chicken pox; it is a cousin of smallpox but causes a much milder disease. Despite the name, the root cause of monkeypox remains unknown. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
The illness often begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes (swollen glands), a general feeling of discomfort, and exhaustion. A few days later, the person develops a rash. Some people may not have any symptoms prior to the start of the rash.
The rash will turn into raised bumps, which then fill with fluid. The rash eventually scabs over, and the scabs fall off. Typically, the rash is mostly on the face, arms, legs, and hands. However, if a person was infected during sexual contact, the rash might only be on the genitals. If a person was infected through anal sex, they may develop anal or rectal irritation, which is why it can easily be confused with other sexually transmitted infections.
The CDC is urging healthcare providers to be alert for patients who have rash illnesses consistent with monkeypox. It should be noted that clinical presentations of confirmed cases in the U.S. to date differ from the classic presentation of monkeypox in prior outbreaks.
The incubation period (time from exposure to the start of symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7-14 days but can range from 5-21 days.
Most people recover in 2-4 weeks, but the disease can be serious, especially for immunocompromised people, children, and pregnant people.
How does monkeypox spread?
According to the CDC, monkeypox spreads in different ways. The virus can spread from person-to-person through:
• direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
• respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
• touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
• pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta. It is also possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal.
Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed (i.e. developed a scab or crusted over). The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others. At this time, it is not known if monkeypox can spread through semen or vaginal fluids.
How is monkeypox treated?
Currently, there is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox. Clinicians can consider certain antiviral medications for people with severe disease or people at high risk of developing severe disease. Since monkeypox is genetically like smallpox, drugs and vaccines used to treat smallpox may be used to treat monkeypox. Tecovirimat (TPOXX) has been shown to be effective in some studies and trials are underway for those with active infections during this outbreak. The WHO has confirmed TPOXX is effective and safe against monkeypox, however the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved its use for outside of smallpox treatment.
Can I get vaccinated against monkeypox?
Yes. There are currently two vaccines effective in preventing monkeypox: the Jynneos vaccine and the ACAM2000 vaccine. The FDA has approved the Jynneos vaccine for preventing monkeypox and smallpox among people 18 and older. The ACAM2000 is FDA-approved to prevent smallpox. The U.S. is currently using only the Jynneos vaccine because it’s safer and has fewer side effects; health officials plan to expand vaccination for individuals at risk first as there is not enough vaccine for everyone who wants it.
How can I lower the risk and protect myself and others from monkeypox?
Educate yourself about the virus and how it spreads. If you are concerned that you are symptomatic or have contracted the virus, get tested by your healthcare provider. For information about testing and testing sites, visit the CDC testing site locator. The CDC also advises abstaining from sex if you or your partner has monkeypox or blisters, rashes or sores that could resemble monkeypox infections.
Learn more and find a provider
If you have concerns about your health or it’s time for a check-up, it’s important to see a primary care provider. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options.
Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.