- The 2022 monkeypox outbreak in the United States has reached over 21,800 cases, the highest ever, leading the Department of Health and Human Services to declare it a national health emergency.
- Monkeypox is a viral infection that starts with flu-like symptoms and can lead to a rash, bumps, or blisters on the skin. It is not new and people can fully recover within a week.
- The disease is spread by close skin-to-skin contact, direct contact with the rash, scabs, or fluids from an infected individual, or by touching fabrics and other material used by someone with monkeypox. It can also be spread through respiratory droplets.
- If you suspect you have monkeypox, reach out to a healthcare provider for testing. Most people with monkeypox recover fully in 2-4 weeks without medical treatment, but some individuals are at a higher risk of getting more severely ill.
- The World Health Organization reported a 21% decline in monkeypox cases globally, but the United States is seeing an increase in cases, with over 34% of the global cases now in the U.S.
The 2022 monkeypox outbreak in the United States continues to grow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports over 21,800 cases (September 9, 2022 data). It’s the highest case count ever in the United States. To put things in context, the largest U.S. monkeypox outbreak before this year was in 2003, with 47 confirmed cases. Since cases are rising, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared monkeypox a national health emergency on August 4, 2022.
The good news is that, according to the CDC, 99% of people infected with the type of monkeypox currently spreading are likely to survive. However, to keep you and your family safe, it’s best to know more about the disease, what steps to take if you think you may have monkeypox, and how to avoid getting infected.
According to the CDC
- Monkeypox first starts with flu-like symptoms. Some infected people develop a rash, bumps, or blisters on their skin
- If you find a rash, contact a healthcare provider
- The disease is not new, and people can recover fully within week
What is Monkeypox? Is it new?
Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus. It is not new but rare. Until now, the disease has been mostly found in West and Central Africa. While sporadic cases have been reported in the United States before, the numbers were few and far between.
According to Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Solv, “What’s concerning about the 2022 monkeypox outbreak is that, in the past, all cases reported out of Africa could be easily traced back to travel from West or Central Africa. Unfortunately, not all cases in the 2022 outbreak can be linked to travel. Additionally, symptoms have been slightly different than what has been traditionally observed.”
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) also agrees. The AADA indicates that, unlike previous monkeypox outbreaks, it is now common for people with monkeypox to report fewer bumps on their skin. They may also not experience flu-like symptoms before developing the rash.
How does monkeypox spread?
While monkeypox is an infectious disease, it is not highly transmissible like COVID-19. However, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates, it is spread by close skin-to-skin contact, including direct contact with the rash, scabs, or fluids from an infected individual. The CDC also notes that monkeypox can be spread by touching fabrics and other material used by someone with monkeypox, and through respiratory droplets.
According to the CDC, monkeypox symptoms start within three weeks (21 days) of exposure.
The first signs of monkeypox are often flu-like and include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle pain or backache
- Sore throat, congestion, or cough
According to the College of Urgent Care Medicine (CUCM), a rash will develop after 1-3 days, commonly on the face, which will then spread to the entire body. Lesions typically develop simultaneously and are contagious until scabs have fallen off.
What does the monkeypox rash look like?
At first, monkeypox rashes can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy, according to the CDC. As the disease progresses, these bumps can be filled with pus or look like blisters or open sores.
Dr. Rohatsch adds, “Monkeypox rashes can look like other infections like herpes, syphilis, chickenpox, or smallpox. Don’t rule out a diagnosis at home. The CDC advises you to reach out to a healthcare provider if you notice bumps or rashes anywhere on your body.”
How long do monkeypox symptoms last?
According to the CDC, monkeypox symptoms can last anywhere from two to four weeks after they first appear. The CDC also notes that someone infected with monkeypox can be contagious during this time — from when symptoms first begin, to when their rash disappears and skin heals.
Says Christopher Chao, MD, president of CUCM, “Be aware that scabs contain active viral particles, and a patient is contagious until new skin has formed.”
What should you do if you think you might have monkeypox?
While it is natural to worry, there is no need to panic. According to the CDC, most people with monkeypox typically fully recover within 2 to 4 weeks without the need for medical treatment.
However, some individuals are at a higher risk of getting more severely ill. The CDC states that people with compromised immune systems, children under 8, individuals with a history of eczema, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding are at a higher risk.
Dr. Rob Rohatsch, elaborates, “For the majority of infected individuals, symptoms will go away over time. Connect with a healthcare professional or your local urgent care center to discuss any concerns.”
If you have a monkeypox rash (or suspect you do), avoid skin-to-skin contact with other people, pets, and animals, as the CDC advises.
How can you get tested for monkeypox?
If you think you or a loved one may have monkeypox, CDC guidelines recommend you talk to a healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center to make sure. Depending on your symptoms, your provider may suggest an in-person visit and tests if needed. Since monkeypox is contagious, if you’re planning an in-person consultation, please call ahead to let the physician’s office know.
As of August 23, 2022, the CDC advises testing for monkeypox only if you have a rash similar to that of a monkeypox rash.
There is no home test for monkeypox. Currently, tests are available only through a healthcare provider.
Your provider will take swabs from your rashes and send them to a lab for analysis. Results may take a couple of days. During your wait, the CDC recommends taking the necessary precautions and isolating, avoiding skin-to-skin contact with other individuals, and washing your hands often. Because other illnesses can have similar presentations, your provider may order additional tests.
What happens if you test positive for monkeypox?
It can be very stressful to test positive for monkeypox. But, please do remember, as the CDC notes, most people with monkeypox recover fully in 2-4 weeks without medical treatment. If you are at a higher risk of severe illness and require treatment, antivirals like tecovirimat (TPOXX) may be effective at reducing risk of severe illness. According to Dr. Chao, ,many patients will not need anti-viral treatment.
Since monkeypox is infectious, the CDC recommends that you let your close contacts know that they may have been exposed. This way, they can isolate, watch for symptoms, and get timely help if required.
Recovering from monkeypox at home? What precautions should you take?
If you have monkeypox, you can transmit the disease till your symptoms last and until the scabs from your rash have healed. According to the CDC, all bedding, clothing, and materials that come in contact with an infected individual’s rashes, body fluids, or respiratory droplets can be contaminated. Poxviruses like monkeypox can survive in dark, cool, and areas with low humidity.
To prevent the spread of the disease, if you are isolating at home, the CDC advises disinfecting your space, including common areas. After disinfecting, the CDC recommends cleaning your hands using an alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) with 60% alcohol. If you share your home with others, isolate and disinfect any shared material.
When will the monkeypox outbreak end?
It may be too soon to tell. The 2022 monkeypox outbreak is still ongoing but there may be hope on the horizon. On August 25, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 21% decline in monkeypox cases. According to WHO’s Director-General, the outbreak may be slowing down in Europe.
However, as reported by Reuters, the United States is seeing an increase in cases, with over 34% of the global cases now in the U.S. While we may hope for lower case counts at home, for now, the mantra continues to be, “when in doubt, get it checked out.” If you find a rash on your body, the CDC recommends talking to a healthcare provider.
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Frequently asked questions
What is monkeypox and is it a new disease?Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus. It is not a new disease but is considered rare. It has been mostly found in West and Central Africa, with sporadic cases reported in the United States.
How does monkeypox spread?Monkeypox is an infectious disease, but it is not as highly transmissible as diseases like COVID-19. It spreads through close skin-to-skin contact, including direct contact with the rash, scabs, or fluids from an infected individual. It can also spread by touching fabrics and other material used by someone with monkeypox, and through respiratory droplets.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
What should I do if I think I might have monkeypox?If you suspect you may have monkeypox, it's recommended to reach out to a healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center for further testing. If you have a rash, avoid skin-to-skin contact with other people, pets, and animals.
How can I get tested for monkeypox?If you think you or a loved one may have monkeypox, you should talk to a healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center. Your provider will take swabs from your rashes and send them to a lab for analysis. There is no home test for monkeypox.
What happens if I test positive for monkeypox?Most people with monkeypox recover fully in 2-4 weeks without medical treatment. However, if you are at a higher risk of severe illness and require treatment, antivirals like tecovirimat (TPOXX) may be effective at reducing risk of severe illness.
What precautions should I take if I am recovering from monkeypox at home?If you have monkeypox, you can transmit the disease till your symptoms last and until the scabs from your rash have healed. To prevent the spread of the disease, disinfect your space, including common areas. If you share your home with others, isolate and disinfect any shared material.
When will the monkeypox outbreak end?It may be too soon to tell. The 2022 monkeypox outbreak is still ongoing. However, the World Health Organization reported a 21% decline in monkeypox cases globally, indicating that the outbreak may be slowing down in Europe. The situation in the United States is still evolving.
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- U.S. Monkeypox Case Trends Reported to CDC (August 24, 2022)
- CDC: Past U.S. Cases and Outbreaks (June 6, 2022)
- Biden-Harris Administration Bolsters Monkeypox Response; HHS Secretary Becerra Declares Public Health Emergency (August 4, 2022) https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/08/04/biden-harris-administration-bolsters-monkeypox-response-hhs-secretary-becerra-declares-public-health-emergency.html
- About Monkeypox: Frequently Asked Questions (August 22, 2022) https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/faq.html#:~:text=See%20a%20healthcare%20provider%20if,you%20see%20a%20healthcare%20provider
- In the News - Monkeypox (June 2022)
- Dermatologist Explains What the Monkeypox Rash Looks Like (June 22, 2022)
- Monkeypox: How it spreads (July 29, 2022)
- Monkeypox: Signs and Symptoms (August 5, 2022)
- Monkeypox Testing Basics (August 23, 2022)
- Monkeypox: How to Protect Yourself (July 29, 2022)
- Monkeypox: Treatment (August 10, 2022)
- Monkeypox: Notifying Close Contacts (August 11, 2022)
- Disinfecting Home and Other Non-Healthcare Settings (August 22, 2022)
- WHO reports 21% decline in monkeypox cases globally (August 25, 2022)
- Monkeypox, COVID-19 & Other Global Health Issues Virtual Press conference transcript - 25 August 2022 (August 25, 2022)