Understanding Mpox

Mpox is an illness caused by a virus. You may hear mpox called monkeypox. It can cause fever, swollen lymph nodes, body aches, and a rash with blisters that hurt. The illness lasts about 2 to 4 weeks.

It can spread from animals to people and spread from person to person. Mpox is most common in Central and West Africa. In spring 2022, mpox cases were reported in Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the U.S. Cases of mpox are confirmed throughout the U.S. Information about mpox in the U.S. is changing regularly. For the latest information, go to the CDC website.

What causes mpox?

Mpox is caused by a virus. It was first called monkeypox because it first showed up in 1958 in monkeys held for research. But experts don’t yet know all the animals that may carry mpox. African squirrels, rats, other rodents, and monkeys may spread it to people. People with mpox symptoms can then spread it to others through close contact from the time symptoms start until the rash is fully healed. Scientists are still trying to find out whether people can spread the virus to others if they don't yet have symptoms.

The virus can spread in any of these ways:

  • Touching the blisters or rash of someone with mpox

  • Coming into contact with the respiratory droplets of someone who has mpox

  • Touching clothing, bedding, or objects that have touched a sick animal or person with mpox

  • Kissing or having sex with a person who has mpox

  • Touching infected animals, meat, or products made from infected animals

  • From an infected pregnant person to their baby, through the placenta

Who's at risk for mpox?

The mpox virus spreads mostly through close, intimate contact with someone who has the virus. You’re at risk for the virus if you have direct, close contact with someone with mpox. Close contact means touching the rash, scabs, or body fluids of someone with mpox. Or handling items such as clothing or linens that touched the rash or body fluids of someone with mpox. Close contact also means intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling or sex. Breathing in droplets breathed out from someone with mpox may also increase your risk. Pregnant people with mpox can spread the virus through the placenta to the fetus.

People at higher risk include those:

  • Identified by public health officials as a contact of someone with mpox.

  • Who know one of their sexual partners in past 2 weeks has been diagnosed with mpox.

  • With multiple sex partners in the past 2 weeks in an area with known mpox.

  • Whose jobs expose them to mpox. This includes lab workers and some healthcare workers.

Symptoms of mpox

Symptoms can happen from 6 days up to 21 days after contact with a person who had mpox. When you have symptoms, you can spread the virus to other people.

The symptoms may start with:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Sore or swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin

  • Muscle aches

  • Backache

  • Chills

  • Feeling very tired

Within 1 to 3 days, a rash with blisters will show up on your body. The rash starts with small red spots that have flat area or dimple in the middle. The spots then form a fluid-filled top over 1 to 2 days. These blisters can look like pimples.

The first spots may be in your mouth and on your tongue. They may show up on your face and spread to other parts of your body. They can spread to your whole body but be worse on your arms and legs. They can spread to the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.

The blisters may be the size of sesame seeds up to the size of a pencil eraser or a little larger (2 to 10 mm). They may hurt. The illness lasts for 2 to 4 weeks. As the blisters dry up and form scabs, they may feel itchy. You may have dark spots where the rash was on your skin. After all scabs have fallen off, you won’t spread the virus to other people.

Diagnosing mpox

A healthcare provider will look at your blisters and ask about your symptoms. They will ask about recent travel or contact with sick people who had blisters. They may take a sample of fluid by swabbing your blisters. This is sent to a lab to look for the mpox virus.

Treatment for mpox

There is no specific treatment for mpox. Most people get better on their own over time. Some people with severe illness may need to be in a hospital for IV fluids and other care.

Antiviral medicines used for smallpox may help some people who are at high risk of severe illness. Your healthcare provider can tell you if medicine is available. Tell your healthcare provider if:

  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Have a problem with your immune system

Possible complications of mpox

In severe cases, mpox can lead to problems such as sepsis, encephalitis, or pneumonia. It may infect the eye. This can cause vision loss. Mpox can lead to death in up to 1 in 10 people who get it. This is much less common in places outside Africa.

Preventing mpox

If you’re planning to travel, check if the area has mpox. Go to the CDC mpox map.

If you’re in an area that has mpox:

  • Don’t have close contact with sick people.

  • Don’t have close contact with a person who has blisters on their skin or genitals.

  • Don’t kiss, hug, or have sex with any person who is sick or has blisters. See the CDC for safer sex tips.

  • Don’t touch anything used by a sick person. This includes clothes, bedding, or other objects.

  • Wash your hands often, especially if you are near a sick person or animals.

  • Stay away from animals that can spread mpox if you're in Central or West Africa. This includes rodents such as rats, monkeys, and apes. Don’t touch anything that was in contact with a sick or dead animal.

  • Don’t use products made from wild animals in Africa. This includes creams, lotions, and powders.

Vaccine information

The CDC states that a vaccine is important to prevent the spread of mpox. CDC advises a vaccine for people who have been exposed to mpox and people who may be more likely to get mpox. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk and vaccination

Two vaccines are approved to help prevent mpox infection.

  • JYNNEOS. This is the preferred vaccine. It is given as a 2-dose shot, 4 weeks apart. But JYNNEOS supply is limited at this time. It takes 2 weeks after getting the 2nd shot to be fully protected. The JYNNEOS vaccine can be given by a shot just under the skin (intradermal) or more deeply into the skin (subcutaneous).

  • ACAM2000. This is a 1-dose shot. It's more widely available but is not advised by the CDC at this time. It's not advised for people with a weak immune system. It takes 4 weeks after the 1-dose vaccine for you to be fully protected.

Experts don't know how long the protection lasts from the vaccines. Talk with your provider about your risk and vaccination.

Consider temporarily changing activities that raise your risk of being exposed if you are at higher risk for mpox because of sexual practices. Temporary changes will help slow the spread of mpox until the vaccine supply increases.

If you have symptoms of mpox

If you have been exposed to mpox and have any symptoms:

  • Call a healthcare provider. Tell them you may have symptoms of mpox. Follow all instructions from the healthcare provider.

  • Limit contact with family members. Don't kiss anyone or share eating or drinking utensils. Don't share clothing or bedding. Clean surfaces you touch with disinfectant. Launder all clothing and bedding. This is to help prevent the virus from spreading.

  • Talk with your sexual partner about any mpox symptoms. If you or your partner has or recently had symptoms, or you have a new or unexplained rash anywhere on your body, don't have sex. See the CDC for more safer sex tips.

  • Stay away from work, school, and public places until cleared by a healthcare provider. This includes public transportation.

  • Tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel. This includes local travel on public transport. Staff may need to find other people you have been in contact with.

Isolation precautions

If you have been diagnosed with mpox or are awaiting test results , the CDC advises you to remain isolated at home and away from other during the illness. This means for about 2 to 4 weeks. But they know this is not always possible. Stay isolated away from others as long as you have a fever or respiratory symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, or nasal congestion.

If you have a rash or blisters but no respiratory symptoms:

  • Cover all parts of the rash with clothing, gloves, or bandages.

  • Wear a well-fitted mask to prevent respiratory droplets from being spread. The mask should fit closely on the face with no gaps around the nose or edges of the mask.

Follow all the tips listed above until all your symptoms have fully gone away. This includes staying out of crowds, not sharing personal items, and washing your hands often or using an alcohol-based sanitizer.

To learn more

To learn more about current outbreaks of mpox, go to:

Date last modified: 12/28/2022

© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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