The Monkeypox Outbreak

Monkeypox was identified by the Biden administration and the World Health Organization as a national emergency in summer of 2022. This designation allows monkeypox to receive a higher level of attention, testing, diagnosis, treatment, and preventative care.

Healthcare providers are encouraging those who feel they may have contracted monkeypox to contact their primary care providers or get tested at an urgent care clinic. Those who are concerned they may have been exposed to monkeypox but don’t have symptoms may be eligible for the vaccine.

Continue reading to learn more about monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox Frequently Asked Questions

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus that first affected animals in west and central Africa but then spread to humans. It is very closely related to the smallpox virus. Despite a common misconception, monkeypox and chickenpox are not related viruses.

How is monkeypox spread?

A person typically contracts monkeypox by coming into close physical contact with another person who has monkeypox. Touching rashes, scabs, sores or bodily fluids from that person can increase risk for contracting monkeypox.

Many individuals have been diagnosed with monkeypox after having sexual intercourse with a person with the illness, but you may also get it from other physical contact, such as hugging, massages or kissing.

What does monkeypox look like?

Typically, someone with monkeypox will develop sores that look like large pimples. Sores may also have the following characteristics:

  • be around a centimeter in size
  • have a firm, red base
  • be filled with fluid or scabbed over
  • look like a shallow ulcer
  • have a small indentation in the middle of the sore
  • look like a small blister

Sores are typically in areas that came into close contact with monkeypox sores on another person. These sores are commonly found on the genital, anorectal, upper thigh and lower abdomen regions; however, they can occur anywhere on the body including the back, chest, arm, hands and face.

There can be multiple sores or just a few.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

In addition to sores, patients with monkeypox may have fever, headache, weakness, rectal pain, swollen lymph nodes, and sore throat. Some patients will just have a rash, while some patients exhibit a variety of symptom combinations.

Sores can cause mild to severe pain.

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

We strongly encourage anyone with monkeypox symptoms to get medical care. We want to accurately report monkeypox cases, so it is important that we test all suspected cases.

If you have sores that look like monkeypox, call your primary health provider, a public health clinic or urgent care location and ask to come in for monkeypox testing. Your provider may want to test you for other infections that could be causing your symptoms as well.

Quarantining instead of seeking care is not recommended because providers want to evaluate and test patients who think they may be positive for monkeypox. If you are positive for monkeypox, your provider may prescribe anti-viral medication that can help ease pain and improve recovery time.

How sick do you get with monkeypox?

People with monkeypox generally get better without treatment. Those who do get treatment report that it does help to lessen symptoms. Monkeypox will usually resolve on its own and very few people have required hospitalization for pain or other complications.

Can monkeypox have long-term health effects?

The sores can scar, but from what has been reported, the vast majority of people recover and go back to normal health. 

Is there a monkeypox vaccine?

If you meet specific criteria, a provider may recommend the monkeypox vaccine. The vaccine is available to those who are 18+ years of age and have been identified by public health as someone who may be at risk.

Criteria from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) aids in determining who is eligible for the vaccine. The CDPHE guidelines as of 9/26/2022 highlight the following criteria for monkeypox vaccine qualification:

  • Anyone who has had close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox in the last 14 days.
  • Anyone who: 
    • Has multiple or anonymous sexual partners, or 
    • Has close physical contact with other people in a venue where anonymous or group sex may occur, or
    • Was diagnosed with gonorrhea or syphilis in the past six months, or
    • Is living with HIV, or
    • Already uses or is eligible for HIV PrEP (medication to prevent HIV, e.g. Truvada or Descovy or Apretude), or
    • Engages in commercial and/or transactional sex (e.g. sex in exchange for money, shelter, food, and other goods or needs).
  • Anyone (any sexual orientation or gender identity) identified by public health as a known high-risk contact of someone who has monkeypox.

What groups are at the highest risk for monkeypox?

Men who have sex with men experienced the first identifiable outbreak of monkeypox. Because of this, this group has been considered to be at the highest risk of getting monkeypox. However, anyone can get monkeypox and everyone must exercise caution to reduce the spread of the disease.

What don’t we know about monkeypox?

There is a lot of information still being researched regarding how monkeypox is transmitted, ways to test for monkeypox, the antiviral treatment, and potential for the virus to reoccur.

It has been proven that close physical contact is the primary means of monkeypox transmission, but experts are still identifying other means of transmission. For example, monkeypox may be transmissible by touching an object like sheets or towels that has been in contact with monkeypox lesions, or through respiratory droplets. Researchers are still studying the likelihood of getting the infection through these transmission methods.

Currently doctors test for monkeypox by swabbing sores and testing the sample for the virus. Research is being completed to determine if a patient’s saliva or perhaps a rectal swab will show a positive test result before sores appear. This could be a game-changer in monkeypox testing, as it would allow a patient to know if they have contracted monkeypox before they have symptoms, and potentially change their behavior to prevent transmission to others while they wait for the infection to clear.

The treatment for monkeypox virus is the same treatment that has been FDA approved for the treatment of smallpox. Despite patient testimonials that the treatment alleviates painful symptoms, there are no official research results yet on the efficacy of the treatment for monkeypox in humans. We do have research that shows that the treatment is safe for humans to take. This antiviral medicine is used in cases with patients who report extreme pain, if a patient is immunocompromised, or if certain organs are affected such as the eyes.

Monkeypox researchers suspect that in the short-term, a person cannot be reinfected with monkeypox after an initial outbreak, but there is no evidence yet to confirm that this is the case. Significant research and testing efforts are needed to determine if an individual can become reinfected with monkeypox in the short and long-term.

What is the future of the monkeypox virus?

There is hope that cases may be going down. However, since we are likely still in the beginning stages of monkeypox in the United States, experts can’t predict the future of monkeypox outbreaks. The rate of positive cases went up exponentially within the first few months and experts will continue to monitor how the virus changes over time.