Monkeypox: What You Need to Know

By Chesney Fowler, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 15, 2022

Monkeypox is a viral disease that was contained to sub-saharan Africa but is currently spreading around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are nearly 32,000 confirmed cases worldwide with about 11,000 of those in the U.S. The Biden administration has declared a national health emergency. 

Before you panic, know that Monkeypox is not like COVID: It doesn’t spread as easily and isn’t nearly as deadly. There have only been 12 confirmed deaths from the outbreak. It is unlikely that Monkeypox will cause major disruption to daily life, but it’s important to know how to protect yourself and what to look for if you think you’ve been exposed. 

How Do You Get Monkeypox? 

Monkeypox spreads primarily through sustained skin-to-skin contact. It can also spread through contact with contaminated items, like clothing worn by someone who is infected. Most of the known infections were contracted through intimate contact, and most of the people who have been infected are men who have sex with other men. It is important to note that anyone can get Monkeypox and while it spreads primarily through intimate contact, that is not the only way it spreads. 

What Does Getting Monkeypox Feel Like? 

While Monkeypox is unlikely to be fatal, it can be very unpleasant. 

The severity of the symptoms vary, but the most common one is a painful rash with telltale sores. Some have described it as like having broken glass rubbed against your skin. The rash can appear elsewhere, too, like inside your mouth and other orifices. It is important to note that the rash can look nearly identical to other, far more common viruses, including hand, foot, and mouth disease, cold sores, genital herpes, and shingles.

Other symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, and cough. Some people will have just the rash, while others may experience some or all of the other symptoms. 

How Is Monkeypox Treated? 

There are no specific medications that treat Monkeypox, but an antiviral called Tecovirimat (TPOXX) is effective against orthopoxviruses such as Monkeypox and Smallpox. Because TPOXX isn’t specifically approved for treating Monkeypox, patients are having trouble getting it prescribed as it has to be obtained through the CDC. The CDC has recently loosened rules for approval for off-label use for TPOXX for patients who are suffering severe infections. Patients who are able to get the medication often see symptoms abate within 24 hours. 

The good news is that most people with Monkeypox fully recover within 2 to 4 weeks without treatment. 

What Can I Do to Avoid Getting Monkeypox? 

While there is a vaccine for Monkeypox, it is in short supply. It is unclear at this early stage just how effective this vaccine is at preventing infection after exposure. 

The CDC is urging other preventative measures, especially for people who may be at higher risk: 

– Avoid intimate contact with people who have visible rashes or sores

– Limit number of sexual partners

– Avoid places where sustained skin-to-skin contact is likely

– Wash your hands, clothing and other items that have been touched by others

What Should I Do If I Think I May Have Been Exposed? 

Contact your healthcare provider or urgent care to be seen in person and tested. Testing is done by swabbing one of the blisters to identify the virus particle. If you are able to get tested, isolate until your test result.  

K Health cannot test for or treat Monkeypox but we are always here for you to help you navigate your health. 

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Chesney Fowler, MD

Dr. Fowler is an emergency medicine physician and received her MD from George Washington University. She completed her residency in emergency medicine at Christiana Care Health System. In addition to her work at K Health, Dr. Fowler is a practicing emergency medicine physician in Washington, DC.