Monkeypox: What you need to know
Plus, what to do if you think you’ve been exposed
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus that belongs to the same family of viruses that cause smallpox. It’s less contagious than smallpox and usually spreads through close, personal contact. Generally, it also causes less severe illness, so most monkeypox cases resolve on their own.
Due to the high number of cases, the World Health Organization has declared the current monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed cases of monkeypox in most parts of the U.S.
Monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as respiratory viruses like COVID-19. So most people aren’t considered at high risk. But Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping protect our members and providing appropriate treatment to those who do become infected. Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
In the U.S., most people with monkeypox develop a rash. It usually starts as a red area that turns into pimples and blisters before scabbing. Before the rash starts, some people also experience fever, chills, and fatigue.
In the current monkeypox outbreak, the rash is often only in the genital area and thighs. But there have been cases where the rash is on the face, hands, and arms. It’s important to keep the rash covered around other people whenever possible.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox usually spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a rash. It can also be spread by sharing surfaces, clothing, or bedding with an infected person. In the current outbreak, it appears to rarely spread through coughing.
Until symptoms start, monkeypox isn’t contagious. After symptoms start, it’s contagious until all scabs have fallen off and new skin has formed in their place.
How sick do people get from monkeypox?
People with monkeypox can experience:
- Rash, pimples, and blisters
- Pain from the rash
- Head, muscle, and back aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
Monkeypox illness usually lasts 2 to 4 weeks, and most people will get better on their own.
Is there a monkeypox vaccine?
Yes, there is a monkeypox vaccine. It’s administered in 2 doses, 28 days apart, to help prevent illness. Although many vaccines are only effective before exposure, you can take the monkeypox vaccine before or after exposure to the virus. But vaccine supply is currently very limited.
Due to high demand and limited supply, the CDC is allocating monkeypox vaccines to state and local public health departments. Eligibility varies by location, but the vaccine is often offered to people who:
- Were identified by public health agencies through investigation, contact tracing, and risk exposure assessments
- Know that a sexual partner in the past 14 days has monkeypox
- Had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in an area with a known monkeypox outbreak
As supply increases, we expect more groups to become eligible for the monkeypox vaccine.
What types of monkeypox testing and treatment are available?
Monkeypox tests need to be processed at a qualified laboratory facility. So you need to get tested by a health care professional. There is currently no home test for monkeypox.
The vaccine can help prevent monkeypox before or after exposure to the virus. If you get monkeypox, some smallpox treatments can be effective. But many monkeypox cases don’t need treatment with medication.
How do I protect myself against monkeypox?
Monkeypox is usually spread through direct skin-to-skin contact. In general, it’s best to avoid:
- Close contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox
- Touching the rash or scabs of someone with monkeypox
- Having sex with someone with monkeypox or who has a rash that looks like monkeypox
- Sharing clothing or bedding with someone who has monkeypox
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to monkeypox?
If you experience monkeypox symptoms or think you’ve been exposed, you should isolate and contact your doctor immediately. Kaiser Permanente members can call their care team or send them a direct message on kp.org or in our app.
Our doctors will work closely with local public health officials to address any suspected monkeypox exposure or cases.
Visit cdc.gov for more information about monkeypox.