Monkeypox: frequently asked questions

Aug. 15, 2022

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but are generally milder.

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal contact, including:

  • Direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids from a person with monkeypox.
  • Touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
  • Contact with respiratory secretions (mucus) of someone with monkeypox.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to the flu, and can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Feeling very tired
  • Respiratory symptoms (like sore throat, nasal congestion or cough)
  • Rash (can look like pimples or blisters, and may be painful or itchy)
Visual examples of monkeypox rash
visual examples of monkeypox rash

Are some people at higher risk for contracting monkeypox?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted gay and bisexual men that monkeypox appears to be spreading in the community globally, warning people to take precautions if they have been in close contact with someone who may have the virus and to be on the lookout for symptoms. People who have recently traveled to areas with monkeypox cases are also at higher risk for contracting monkeypox, based on recent data. Transgender people and gender-diverse people may also be more vulnerable. However, anyone can get monkeypox. The virus does not discriminate against any group.

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

Anyone with symptoms of monkeypox should contact a health care provider as soon as possible. Avoid close contact with others. Wear a mask, cover any sores and let the provider know before you arrive for care. Some providers offer testing for people who have symptoms of monkeypox. Your provider may prescribe you antiviral treatment to help you recover.

When do monkeypox symptoms appear?

Monkeypox symptoms usually start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.

How long is someone with monkeypox contagious?

Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness usually lasts 2-4 weeks.

When should someone be tested for monkeypox?

People who get a new pimple or blister-like rash, are within 21 days of the start of symptoms and:

  • Have been in contact with someone with a similar rash or who received a diagnosis of monkeypox OR
  • Had close contact with people in a social network experiencing monkeypox activity OR
  • Traveled outside the U.S. to a country with confirmed cases of monkeypox OR
  • Had contact with a dead or live wild animal or exotic pet from Africa or used a product that came from such animals (such as, game meat, creams, lotions, powders, etc.)

If I get tested for monkeypox, what should I do while I wait for results?

If you were tested because of symptoms or an exposure to someone with monkeypox, you should stay in your home while you wait for your results, unless there is an emergency or follow-up medical care is necessary.

If I test positive for monkeypox, how long do I have to stay away from other people (isolate)?

If you test positive for monkeypox, then you must isolate until your rash has fully healed, your scabs have fallen off, a fresh layer of healthy skin has formed, and state or local public health officials have said you can stop isolating. Reschedule non-emergency medical appointments, such as dental cleanings and preventative care (like annual physicals), for after your isolation has ended.

If I go to the emergency department or other health care setting, do I have to let them know that I have been exposed to someone with monkeypox?

If you get ANY medical care, tell the health care provider you might have been exposed to someone with monkeypox before you arrive. This will help make sure the medical staff can protect themselves and others. Put on a mask before you enter a health care facility and keep it on during your entire stay.

Can I go to work or school if I have been diagnosed with monkeypox?

Do not go to work or school. Avoid all public places.

Can I have visitors if I have been diagnosed with monkeypox?

Friends, family members, and others should not visit you, unless they have to come to your home for an emergency.

What do I do if I have to leave the house during my isolation period?

Make sure your rash and sores are fully covered (using long-sleeved shirts, pants or bandages) before leaving home. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth and keep it on at all times.  Use hand sanitizer.

How do I limit the spread of monkeypox?

Avoid contact with other people and animals. This includes hugging, cuddling, kissing and sexual activity. Avoid shared spaces (like living rooms, kitchens, etc.). If this is not possible, avoid using shared spaces at the same time as other people.

Make sure you clean any surfaces you have touched when you are done using the shared space and avoid storing any personal items in the shared space. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, after touching sores or bandages, after handling laundry, and before and after putting on gloves.

If I have monkeypox, are there ways people in my home can protect me and others?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves can help protect you and others in your home, including your pets. Wear a well-fitting face mask when you are around other people or pets. A surgical mask or respirator mask (like a KN95) work best.

Other people in your home should also wear a well-fitting face mask if they have to be around you. Make sure your mask covers both your nose and mouth. There shouldn’t be any gaps letting air out between your face and the edges of the mask.

If I have monkeypox, are there other things I need to do to prevent spread?

Wear disposable gloves when touching your rash, sores, blisters, bandages or dirty laundry. Throw away the gloves immediately after using them and wash your hands. If you have touched your rash or sores with gloves on, be careful not to touch anything else with the same gloves.

How do I get rid of gloves or bandages that have had contact with the monkeypox rash?

People and animals can be exposed to monkeypox through trash. This includes workers managing waste in landfills. It is important to throw away your trash safely. Put soiled items such as bandages or gloves in a large zip-lock bag. Be sure to seal the bag before you throw it away.

  • Be careful not to touch the outside of the bag with your sores or rashes. You can put the bag inside a second bag for safe storage.
  • Wash your hands immediately after touching the bag, sores or contaminated items.
  • Store bagged waste in a safe place away from other people or pets.

 Do I have to do special house cleaning if I am diagnosed with monkeypox?

  • Clean surfaces in commonly used areas often. Clean any surfaces you touch as soon as possible.
  • Clean shared spaces after each use and before another person uses them.
  • Clean commonly touched items such as remote controls, light switches, handles, doorknobs and bathroom handles.
  • Cover upholstered furniture, carpets and mattresses that can’t be easily cleaned, or avoid using them. You can cover these items with sheets, towels or other fabrics. If you cover them, make sure other people and pets in the home do not touch the coverings. Carefully remove the covering after use, folding it slowly. Contain and wash the covering separately from other people’s laundry.
  • Wash eating utensils and dishes immediately after each use. Use soap and warm water or run them through the dishwasher. They are safe to be used by others after being washed.
  • Store your used laundry and wash it separately. Do not let anyone else handle or wash your laundry.
    • Wash your laundry separately from other people’s clothes.
    • Use a separate plastic container (e.g., hamper) or bag to store used laundry.
    • Wear gloves when handling dirty laundry.
    • Do not shake your dirty laundry. This may spread particles of the virus in the air.
    • Wash laundry with warm water and your regular laundry detergent.
    • Clean surfaces in the laundry room immediately after use, using a cleaning product such as bleach or Lysol. Be sure to clean washer and dryer control panels and knobs.
  • Dry dusting, sweeping or vacuuming surfaces contaminated with monkeypox may spread particles of the virus in the air and should be avoided whenever possible. Wet cleaning methods are preferred such as disinfectant wipes, sprays, and mopping. Follow the label instructions of disinfectant to contain and kill the virus.
  • Vacuuming is OK when using a vacuum with a high-efficiency air filter. If one is not available, make sure the person vacuuming wears a well-fitting mask or respirator.
  • If you have directly touched upholstered furniture, carpets and mattresses, steam clean them if possible. You can also use a surface-appropriate disinfectant if the contact is minimal.

What do I do if I am diagnosed with monkeypox and have pets?

Animals, including your pets, can be infected with monkeypox.

  • If you HAVE NOT had any close contact with your pet since you got sick, ask friends or family members who live in a separate home to take care of your pet until you fully recover. Close contact includes petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, licking, sharing a bed and sharing food.
  • If you DID have close contact with your pet after your symptoms began, keep your pet at home and away from people and other animals for 21 days after your most recent contact with them.
    • Avoid petting, cuddling, hugging or kissing your pet. Do not let your pet lick you.
    • Do not let animals come in contact with rashes, sores, body fluids or contaminated bandages.
  • Whenever possible, have another household member care for your pets. If you must care for your pet:
    • Wear a well-fitting face mask that covers your nose and mouth.
    • Wear gloves when touching your pet or handling their food, containers or bedding.
    • Wash your hands before and after you touch your pet (and before and after putting on gloves and taking them off).
    • Avoid sharing spaces with your pets. Make sure your pets can’t get to items you have recently touched, such as clothing, sheets, towels and blankets.
    • Watch animals for signs of illness including tiredness, lack of appetite, coughing, fluid coming from their nose, bloating, fever, and a pimple- or blister-like skin rash.
    • If your pet seems sick, call your veterinarian, the state public health veterinarian (303.692.2700), or the state veterinarian (303.869.9130). Call 303.692.2700 if you need more help.

Is there treatment for monkeypox?

Most people will get better on their own without treatment. Treatment is available through the CDC for certain patients. If you are diagnosed with monkeypox and you are in one of the categories below, your provider may recommend treating you if you:

  • Have severe disease requiring hospitalization or complications such as an infection of the skin lesions, severe nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, or pneumonia.
  • Have involvement of the eyes or mouth.
  • Have pre-existing skin conditions.
  • Are immunocompromised.
  • Are younger than 8 years old.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

What can I do if I have been told that I have been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed monkeypox?

The health department may contact you if you have been exposed to someone with confirmed monkeypox and will ask you questions related to your contact with this person. In some cases, you may be offered a vaccine that can prevent the infection from occurring. This must occur within 14 days of being exposed.

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.

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