Information about Monkeypox
You may have seen recent headlines about a monkeypox outbreak throughout the United States and other countries that do not usually see cases of monkeypox. While the number of cases in Massachusetts is still low, we know you may have many questions about this disease. Read on to learn more about monkeypox, how it spreads, who’s most at risk, and whether vaccines are available.
Please click below to schedule a first monkeypox vaccine dose.
Frequently Asked Questions about Monkeypox
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It’s related to smallpox, but symptoms are milder. For most people, symptoms can be very painful but go away on their own within two to four weeks.
Before 2022, all outbreaks of monkeypox occurred in central and western Africa, with all cases in other countries linked to places where monkeypox is more common. However, there is now an outbreak of monkeypox in many countries throughout the world, including the United States.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Signs and symptoms of monkeypox include:
- A rash, which will look like pimples or blisters at first and may be painful or itchy. This rash is usually on or near the genitals, anus, or mouth, but can be located anywhere on the body.
- Being very tired
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat or cough
- Nasal congestion
Not everyone who has monkeypox has all these symptoms, although everyone will have a rash. Many people notice the rash first, but other symptoms can occur first.
How long do monkeypox symptoms last?
For most people, monkeypox symptoms will start within three weeks of being exposed to the virus. If you have flu-like symptoms first, a rash will usually appear a few days later. Overall, symptoms typically last around two to four weeks.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox spreads through close skin-to-skin contact, including:
- Direct contact with a monkeypox rash or body fluids from someone with monkeypox. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex with a person with monkeypox, as well as hugging and kissing.
- Touching objects, fabrics, and surfaces that someone with monkeypox has used, unless they have been disinfected.
- Contact with mucus or spit from coughing (respiratory secretions) from a person with monkeypox. Right now, scientists are still learning how this works.
Pregnant people can also spread the monkeypox virus to their fetus.
Monkeypox can spread anytime from when symptoms start to when your rash has fully healed and a new layer of skin has formed over the scabs of the rash.
Who is most at risk for monkeypox?
Someone who has close contact, including sexual contact, or lives with a person who has monkeypox is most at risk for getting the virus. Having sustained skin-to-skin contact of any kind with other people can generally increase your risk.
Anyone can get monkeypox, but the majority of cases in the current outbreak have been in adult men who have sex with men.
It is unlikely that you will get monkeypox in a public place, such as on public transportation. But being unmasked in crowded places can increase your risk of getting any virus, including monkeypox.
How can I reduce my risk of getting monkeypox?
The best way to reduce your chance of getting monkeypox is to avoid skin-to-skin contact with someone with diagnosed monkeypox or someone who has any symptoms of monkeypox, including a rash. Also avoid sharing eating utensils, clothing, bedding, or other objects with a person with monkeypox.
For some people, reducing their number of sexual partners and encounters may be a good way to reduce their risk of monkeypox.
General practices to reduce your chances of getting any sort of virus will also reduce your risk of getting monkeypox. These include:
- Washing your hand frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
- Avoiding contact with anyone who is sick.
- Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth when in public indoor spaces.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to monkeypox?
If you have been, or might have been exposed to monkeypox, or have symptoms of monkeypox, call your health care provider. They can tell you what to do next and test you for monkeypox if necessary.
Until you see your doctor, avoid close contact with others if you can. If you can’t avoid close contact, be sure to let the other person know you were exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms of monkeypox. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
How is monkeypox diagnosed?
First, your doctor may try to rule out other conditions, such as chickenpox, because monkeypox is rare. However, monkeypox is more likely to cause swollen lymph nodes than other, similar conditions. They’ll also take a history or your symptoms and ask questions about your risks for monkeypox, including recent sexual history and potential exposures.
If your doctor suspects monkeypox, they’ll take a small sample from part of your rash and send it to a lab for testing. They may also take blood to check for the monkeypox virus. These two tests can tell your doctor if you definitely have monkeypox.
How is monkeypox treated?
There is no treatment specifically for monkeypox, but treatments developed for smallpox can be used to treat monkeypox. An antiviral medication like tecovirimat (TPOXX) may be recommended if you’re immunocompromised or have another condition that puts you at a higher risk of getting very sick from monkeypox.
But for most people, monkeypox will go away on its own, without treatment, within four weeks. Your doctor will monitor you while you’re sick and make sure that you don’t get any secondary infections.
Is monkeypox fatal?
To date, no one has died during the current outbreak of monkeypox, which is caused by a less severe type of the virus. But monkeypox can lead to other infections, like pneumonia, which can be fatal.
Can I get a monkeypox vaccine?
There is a vaccination for monkeypox called JYNNEOS. In Massachusetts, JYNNEOS is available only to people who live or work in the state and meet other eligibility criteria, including if you may have been exposed or may be exposed to monkeypox.
Current criteria for people who might have already been exposed to monkeypox include:
- You have been identified as a close contact of someone with monkeypox.
- You learn that one of your sex partners in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with monkeypox.
- You are a man who has had sex with other men, or you are a transgender or nonbinary person, and in the past two weeks you have had:
- Sex with multiple partners or group sex.
- Sex at a commercial sex venue (like a sex club or bathhouse).
- Sex at an event, venue, or in an area where monkeypox transmission is occurring.
Current criteria for people who might be exposed to monkeypox in the future include:
- You are a man who has sex with other men, or if you are a transgender or nonbinary person and in the past six months have had any of the following:
- A new diagnosis of one or more sexually transmitted diseases including acute HIV, chancroid, chlamydia, or gonorrhea
- More than one sex partner.
- You are a person who in the past six months has had any of the following:
- Sex at a commercial sex venue (like a sex club or bathhouse)
- Sex at an event, venue, or in an area where monkeypox transmission is occurring.
- You are a person whose sexual partner identifies with any of the above scenarios.
- You are a person who anticipates experiencing any of the above scenarios.
If you think that you should get the monkeypox vaccine, call your doctor or the BMC STD Clinic at 617-414-2803. They will help you figure out if you’re able to get the vaccine.
If you are eligible to get a monkeypox vaccine, you can make your own appointment at one of the locations throughout the state offering JYNNEOS.
Where can I find more information?
- General monkeypox information from the Boston Public Health Commission: https://www.boston.gov/government/cabinets/boston-public-health-commission/infectious-diseases/infectious-diseases-z/monkeypox
- General monkeypox information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/index.html
- Vaccine information from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/monkeypox-vaccination
- Vaccine information from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/smallpox-monkeypox.html