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What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus (germ) and is similar to cowpox, camelpox, and smallpox. It was first seen in laboratory monkeys. Monkeypox is a common animal disease of rodents, such as mice and squirrels, in the Central and West African rainforests. A shipment of infected rare pets, Gambian rats, caused a monkeypox outbreak in the United States in 2003. These rodents infected prairie dogs, which were sold as pets, and later on spread the infection to people. It is a public health problem because the infection spreads very fast.

What causes monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by a virus believed to be carried by rodents, squirrels, and prairie dogs. Humans are often infected by a bite from an affected animal. It may also spread to humans by just being around infected animals that are kept as pets. Living with or caring for people infected with monkeypox may also increase your chance of getting this disease. You may get monkeypox through direct contact with their skin sores, blood, and other body fluids. Touching beddings, linens, and other items used by infected people or animals may also increase your chance of getting monkeypox. It may also be spread through the air by an infected person who coughs or sneezes.

What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?

Fever is usually the first symptom in a monkeypox infection. This is followed by a skin rash 2 to 3 days after the start of the fever. The skin rash is first seen on the trunk (body), later spreading to the arms, legs, and head area. Rashes may start as a blister or a raised bump filled with pus. These rashes later get crusty, scab over, and fall off. It is common for lymph nodes to get big and swollen. Lymph nodes in the neck, back of the neck, groin, and armpits may be affected. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Chills and sweats.
  • Headaches, backaches, or muscle pains.
  • Feeling more tired than usual.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.

How is monkeypox diagnosed?

You may have one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Electron microscopy: This uses a high powered microscope to look for the monkeypox virus. Caregivers may prick the blisters and collect the fluid onto a glass slide. Crust from sores may also be scraped off and placed on the glass slide. The glass slides are then sent to the lab for tests.
  • Skin biopsy: Caregivers may remove a small piece of tissue from the skin. The tissue will then be sent to the lab for tests. Before the tissue is removed, the skin will be cleaned, and medicine may be used to numb the area. After the biopsy, stitches may be needed to close the wound. A bandage may cover the biopsy area.
  • Throat swab culture: This is a test that may help caregivers look for the virus that may be causing your illness. A throat culture is done by rubbing a cotton swab on the back of your throat. This is then sent to the lab for tests.

How is monkeypox treated?

There is no specific treatment for monkeypox. Medicines, such as those for fever, pain, and coughing, may be used to decrease the signs and symptoms of the disease. A smallpox vaccination, may be given to help your body fight the monkeypox virus. In severe cases, immune globulins or antiviral medicines may be used. Ask your caregiver for more information about the treatment options that might be used to treat monkeypox. With treatment, such as medicine and a vaccine, you have a greater chance of a full recovery.

How do I care for someone who has monkeypox?

  • Wash your hands before and after going into the affected person's room.
  • Have the sick person stay in one part of the house. Do not allow visitors or pets in that area if possible.
  • Have the sick person wear a mask when other people are in the room.
  • Everyone should wear a mask when visiting the sick person.
  • Frequently clean all items and surfaces touched by the patient with a household cleanser that kills germs. Use disposable (single-use) gloves while cleaning, washing, or handling beddings, eating utensils, or used tissues. Only use the gloves once and then throw them away. Wash your hands after wearing the gloves.
  • Pay close attention to how you feel. See your caregiver if you get a fever, rash, or start feeling sick within three weeks of being exposed to monkeypox.
  • Do not share beddings, linens, or eating utensils with the affected patient. These items may be used again after they have been cleaned with hot water and soap.

How can I keep from spreading monkeypox?

Your caregiver will report your monkeypox illness to the public health department. Stay home and away from people until you can no longer spread the disease. Do the following things until your caregiver says that you can no longer spread monkeypox to others:

  • Tell caregivers that you may have monkeypox before they come in direct contact with you. They need to take steps to protect themselves and their staff from the virus.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after eating, touching anything, and after going to the bathroom.
  • Avoid being around other family members whenever possible. Limit your movement inside your house. Limit visitors to your house.
  • Wear clothing that covers your rash when you must be around other people. This may include long sleeves and long pants.
  • Wear a mask when other people are in the room with you. Have your visitors wear masks too. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
  • Your family members, visitors, and co-workers should pay special attention to how they feel. They could catch the monkeypox virus from you. They should watch for fever or signs of sickness for three weeks after visiting you. If they get a fever or a rash, they should call their caregiver right away.
  • Do not go to work, school, or other public areas until your caregiver says it is OK. You may still be able to give monkeypox to others even after you have gotten better. Stay home until your caregiver says you can no longer spread monkeypox virus to others.

What should I do if I think my pet has monkeypox?

  • Monkeypox is commonly found in prairie dogs, imported rodents, and other rare animals kept as pets. However, any pet may get infected with monkeypox. If you think your pet may have been exposed to monkeypox, call your veterinarian (animal doctor). Your pet may need to be kept away from people and other animals. Keep the animal in a room that is away from the rest of the house. This is to make sure that your pet does not spread the monkeypox virus. Pets that become sick with monkeypox may sometimes need to be killed.
  • If your pet has been exposed to the monkeypox virus, do not release it into the wild or give it to an animal shelter. Doing so is very dangerous to other animals and people because it might spread the monkeypox virus.
  • It is important to protect yourself. Wear single-use gloves when handling your pet or objects that have come in contact with your pet. Wash your hands with soap and warm water after removing the gloves.
  • If you have an animal that you think has died from monkeypox, put it in a sealed plastic bag. Put that bag into a second sealed plastic bag. Wear disposable gloves to do this and wash your hands afterwards. Call your veterinarian or local health department so they can take the animal away. Do not bury the animal or throw it or its belongings in the garbage.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a convulsion (seizure).

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a bad headache, stiff neck, or trouble thinking clearly.
  • You become confused, act differently than normal, or it is harder than normal to wake you up.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your skin is itchy or you have a rash that is different from your monkeypox rash.
  • Your symptoms do not go away or they get worse.
  • You have any questions or concerns about your monkeypox.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.