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What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is in the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. It was first identified as a pox-like disease in monkeys kept for research, hence the name "monkeypox."

Known primarily for its characteristic rash with lesions that scab over, the monkeypox rash can occur on the palms and soles, or be generalized affecting other areas including perianal or genital areas. The incubation period (the time from infection with monkeypox to the time symptoms appear) is on average 7 to 14 days. Monkeypox is treatable; however, the disease is occasionally fatal.

Note that the rash associated with monkeypox can be confused with other rashes associated with sexually transmitted infections, such as still-common herpes and syphilis. However, it is also possible to be infected with both monkeypox and an STI.

Who is at risk for monkeypox?

People at higher risk for monkeypox infection include those who have recently travelled to a country where monkeypox has been identified, or having contact with other people who have a similar rash or have received a diagnosis of suspected or confirmed monkeypox. The current outbreak is primarily affecting men who report having had intimate contact with other men.

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, and often skin-to-skin contact including:

  • Direct contact with monkeypox rash, sores, or scabs
  • Contact with objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox
  • Through respiratory droplets or oral fluids from a person with monkeypox (but less transmissible through the airborne-only route than viruses such as the COVID or influenza)
  • During intimate sexual contact such as oral, anal, and vaginal sex or touching the genitals or anus of a person with monkeypox
  • Hugging, massaging, or kissing and talking closely

Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until all sores have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed; this can take several weeks.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox symptoms can include: 

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • A rash or sores, sometimes located on or near the genitals or anus, also could appear in other areas such as the hands, feet, chest, or face

One main difference is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell, while smallpox does not. The time from infection to showing symptoms is usually 7 to 14 days, but may range from 5 to 21 days total. Please visit the CDC website to learn more.

If you think you’ve been infected, please contact your health care provider.

CDC is closely tracking cases of monkeypox that have been recently reported in several countries that don’t normally have monkeypox activity, including the United States. Learn more about the CDC response to monkeypox.

Questions and Answers

Updated August 4, 2022


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