The monkeypox virus is rare. Over the last few months there has been an increase in cases among people who have not traveled to areas where monkeypox was considered more common. Symptoms can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash. Currently, monkeypox seems to be most prevalent among men who have sex with other men. Most cases are mild and get better on their own. However, monkeypox can be very painful, and depending on where it appears and the extent, the rash can lead to permanent scarring.
Symptoms and Spreading
The most obvious symptoms of monkeypox are rash and fever. The rash usually looks like pimples or blisters and often appears on the face, hands, feet, chest, or genitals. Other symptoms include:
- Aches in muscles and back
- Swollen lymph nodes
Monkeypox spreads mostly through close physical contact between people. You can also catch it through contact with fabrics and other objects that have been used by someone with monkeypox, such as sheets or towels. While respiratory droplets can also spread the virus, it requires prolonged face-to-face exposure—usually about three hours.
The first steps in diagnosing monkeypox are looking at the rash and taking a patient history. If you have traveled in the last month to a country with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus—including Africa and most large European cities—you might be more likely to have monkeypox. Similarly, if you have had contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of the virus or who identifies as a man and reports sexual contact with other men, the doctor might suspect monkeypox. To make a definitive diagnosis, we swab the rash and send it to the lab for testing.
Results of lab tests may take three or four days, so if your doctor thinks you have monkeypox, they will tell you to isolate at home until the results come back. To keep others from catching monkeypox, you should isolate at home, away from other family members and pets. Cats and dogs can catch monkeypox. If you test negative, your doctor may tell you that you can leave isolation.
Most monkeypox cases get better without medication. But while you have active symptoms, you will want to protect others from catching the virus. You can do this by isolating yourself at home. Stay in a separate room or area away from other family members and pets until the lesions fall off, scab over, and are replaced with new skin. This usually takes two to four weeks.
If you are severely immunocompromised, you may need treatment. This group includes people who have advanced HIV, organ transplants, or are receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment. For these patients, we may prescribe antivirals.
How to Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself from getting monkeypox is to:
- Minimize the number of sexual partners you have.
- Ask your sexual partners if they have a rash or other monkeypox symptoms.
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a rash or other monkeypox symptoms.
- Condoms can help, but since monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, condoms will only protect you from any rash on the penis; they won’t protect you from a rash on the arms or legs.
- Monkeypox vaccine may be available through your local health department. In New York City, you can visit this website for more information about whether you are eligible for and how to get vaccinated.
If you have scheduled a visit with a health care provider and you are concerned that you have monkeypox or could have monkeypox, please let the clinic or facility know before you arrive.