Protecting yourself from monkeypox begins with understanding what monkeypox is, how it spreads, who is most at risk, and how exposure happens.
Monkeypox is spread by contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets, skin lesions, or bodily fluids.
If you are sexually active, you can protect yourself from monkeypox by practicing safer sex and reducing your number of sexual partners.
If you need to care for someone with monkeypox, wear PPE and remove and dispose of it carefully to avoid contact with any fluids that may be present.
You can protect yourself from the monkeypox virus by avoiding contact with infected people and the things they may have used, such as bedding, clothing, and other objects.
Consider the risk of skin-to-skin or close contact for any social gathering you might attend.
According to the CDC, there is no need for everyone to be vaccinated against monkeypox.
Avoid close contact with infected people, their clothing & bedding, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if touch is required to care for someone infected with monkeypox, and wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you are sexually active, practice safer sex.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus. The monkeypox virus is in the same virus family as smallpox (which was eliminated by vaccines). The monkeypox virus infects animals like rodents and primates (monkeys) and can also infect humans.
Monkeypox is prevalent in Central and West Africa, but outbreaks have happened in several other countries, including the United States and Europe. Because of the outbreaks, monkeypox is now considered a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a public health emergency by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How does it spread?
Monkeypox spreads from person to person through close contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets, skin lesions (the rash caused by the virus), or bodily fluids. This includes close face-to-face or skin-to-skin contact, sexual contact, and contact with an infected person’s clothing or bedding. An infected pregnant person can spread monkeypox to the fetus (baby).
Monkeypox can also spread from animal to person. At this time, it is unlikely to get monkeypox from an animal in the U.S.
Monkeypox has an incubation period of four to 21 days. This means that if you are exposed to the monkeypox virus, it can take from four to 21 days for symptoms to appear.
Who is at the most risk of getting monkeypox?
According to data from the CDC, gay men, bisexual men, or other men who have sex with men have been disproportionately affected, making up over 94% of monkeypox cases in the U.S. While this group is most at risk, anyone who has sexual contact or close, personal, skin-to-skin contact with someone infected with the monkeypox virus is at high risk of infection.
How can you protect yourself from infection with the monkeypox virus?
Here are the basic steps to take to avoid monkeypox infection:
- Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox. This includes kissing, cuddling, massaging, or having sex with someone infected with the monkeypox virus.
- Avoid contact with the clothes, bedding, and objects that a person infected with monkeypox has used.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves and a mask, if contact is required to care for someone infected with monkeypox. Remove the PPE and dispose of it carefully so you don’t touch fluids that may be on the outside.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating, touching your face, and after using the bathroom.
If you are sexually active, know that monkeypox can be transmitted through close, sustained physical contact, including sexual and intimate contact. According to the CDC, since vaccine supplies are limited at this time, you might need to make temporary behavioral changes to avoid infection, such as having safer sex.
Here are some ways to lower your monkeypox risk if you are sexually active:
- Consider having virtual sex with no in-person contact.
- Talk to your partner and be aware of any unexplained rashes or lesions on either person’s body. If either partner has an unexplained rash or other monkeypox symptoms, do not have sex or see a healthcare provider (HCP) as soon as possible.
- Make a habit of exchanging contact information with any new sex partner in case you need sexual health follow-up.
- Be aware that spaces where anonymous sex with multiple partners occurs are more likely to spread monkeypox.
- To reduce your risk of exposure, limit your number of sex partners.
- Avoid prolonged kissing since respiratory secretions can spread monkeypox.
- Condoms (polyurethane or latex) may protect your anus, vagina, penis, or mouth from monkeypox exposure. Condoms may not fully protect you since the rash from monkeypox can be on other parts of the body
- Have sex with your clothes on or as much rash coverage as possible.
- Remember to wash your hands, bedding, or other items after sex.
How to protect yourself at social gatherings:
Before attending social gatherings, the CDC recommends considering how likely skin-to-skin contact and personal contact are to occur.
- At places like fairs, concerts, and festivals where participants are clothed, and skin-to-skin contact is unlikely, the risk of exposure to monkeypox is reduced.
- Attending nightclubs, raves, or parties, where people are wearing less clothing and skin-to-skin contact, is possible, has an increased risk of monkeypox exposure. Avoid touching anyone with a visible rash.
- Remember that kissing an infected person can potentially spread the monkeypox virus.
- If you are sick or have a rash, do not attend any gatherings and see your HCP.
What if you are exposed?
If you are exposed to the monkeypox virus, the CDC recommends that you monitor your health for symptoms for up to three weeks.
Should a rash develop, see your HCP as soon as possible.
If you develop monkeypox symptoms without a rash, you should still consult your HCP for advice on how to proceed.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of monkeypox are:
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Body aches.
- Respiratory symptoms (cough, nasal congestion, or sore throat).
- Fatigue (exhaustion).
- Rash – skin lesions (sores) that look like a pimple or blister.
The rash typically appears about 1-4 days after the other symptoms start, but it may come first. The rash may be on the mouth, face, hands, feet, or chest. The rash may begin on the genitals or anus if contracted during sexual contact. The rash may look like a pimple or blister and can be itchy or painful.
The monkeypox rash will go through stages before it is completely healed.
Monkeypox can be spread from when the symptoms start until the rash scabs over, falls off, and new skin appears. It commonly takes 2 to 4 weeks for monkeypox to run its course.
Anyone infected with monkeypox should isolate at home and in a separate room from other family members and pets until the rash heals completely.
If you have a new rash or think you may have been exposed to the monkeypox virus, contact your HCP immediately.
What is the treatment?
Most people recover in 2-4 weeks without medical treatment. During recovery, treat painful symptoms with over-the-counter medications.
People infected with monkeypox who are immunocompromised, pregnant, or children under eight years of age may be considered for treatment with antivirals. Your HCP will help you decide what treatment is required.
At this time, the CDC does not recommend that everyone get vaccinated against monkeypox. Vaccinations are available and may be recommended to people who have been exposed or who are at high risk of exposure. The amount of vaccines is currently limited.
Some monkeypox virus symptoms might be mistaken for those of other illnesses like chickenpox, herpes, or syphilis. It is crucial to get a medical diagnosis from your HCP. If monkeypox is confirmed, isolation is required until you have recovered completely from the virus. In most cases recovery takes two to four weeks.
The chances of being infected with the monkeypox virus in the U.S. are low if you avoid close contact with infected people, their clothing & bedding, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if touch is required to care for someone infected with monkeypox and wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You're risk increases if you are sexually active with someone with monkeypox symptoms.