What to know about monkeypox

You’ve likely heard of the monkeypox virus that’s spreading across the United States and around the world, prompting health officials to declare a global health emergency. But there may be a lot of misconceptions and myths about what it is and how it spreads.

Let’s take a look at the facts behind this rare disease.

“With any infectious disease, it’s important to understand the risks and symptoms that may be associated with the virus,” said Dr. Ethan Berke, Chief Public Health Officer at UnitedHealth Group. “Knowing the facts can help you stay healthy and prevent infection.”

What is monkeypox?

The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Monkeypox was originally discovered in 1958, when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. However, despite being found in monkeys, the source of the disease remains unknown. Monkeypox is rarely fatal. While there are currently no treatments specifically for the monkeypox virus, the infection usually goes away on its own after about four weeks.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC states symptoms typically appear a few weeks after infection or exposure to the virus. This may most commonly occur during intimate contact. Symptoms of monkeypox may include:

  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body, such as the hands, feet, chest or genitals region.
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms (such as a sore throat, nasal congestion or cough)

The rash may go through several stages before healing, including scabs or being painful and itchy. Some people may experience a rash first and then have other symptoms but others may only have a rash. While most of the early cases were identified in gay men, monkeypox can be spread to anyone regardless of sexual orientation through droplets or contact with the rash. There are cases of heterosexual people and children contracting the infection.

How does it spread?

Monkeypox may spread in a few different ways, according to the CDC. Most commonly, it may spread through close contact with someone infected with monkeypox. This may include skin-to-skin contact or through bodily fluids. Touching surfaces, fabrics, or using utensils, cups, or a toothbrush that have been used by someone with monkeypox is also a possible transmission.

Researchers are still working to understand if the virus can spread when someone does not have symptoms. Monkeypox can also spread from an animal to a person through broken skin (bites, scratches) with an infected animal’s blood, bodily fluid or pox lesions.

How do you prevent monkeypox?

The CDC recommends avoiding contact with anyone who has a rash that looks like monkeypox and washing your hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.

If you think you may have monkeypox, talk to your health care provider and avoid contact with others.

If you have monkeypox, you should isolate until all rashes are completely healed over and you have no fever or respiratory symptoms. Monkeypox usually resolves in 3 to 4 weeks.

How do you diagnose monkeypox?

A health care provider can help you identify and diagnose monkeypox. Typically, a health care provider may take a sample from the area of the rash and send it to a lab.

For more information about monkeypox, visit the CDC’s website.