Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus. It’s characterized by a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a widespread rash. The rash causes many lesions, which can appear on or near your genitals or anus, along with other areas such as your chest, face, hands, or feet.

Monkeypox is also a zoonotic disease. This means it can be transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa. It can also be transmitted from one human to another.

There are two different types of the monkeypox virus, the West African virus and the Congo Basin virus.

Before 2022, most cases of monkeypox occurred in central and western Africa. However, cases of monkeypox caused by the West African form of the virus have been reported in 94 countries worldwide as of the time of this article’s publication, including in areas where it doesn’t usually occur.

Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of monkeypox. This article will also explain how monkeypox spreads and how it can be treated.

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus. The virus is part of the Orthopoxvirus genus, which includes the virus that causes smallpox.

Scientists first identified the disease in 1958. There were two outbreaks among monkeys used for research. That’s why the condition is called monkeypox.

The first case of monkeypox in a human happened in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are typically milder.

After you contract the monkeypox virus, it typically takes 6 to 13 days for symptoms to appear. However, this can range from 5 to 21 days.

The early symptoms can include:

After the fever develops, a rash usually appears 1 to 3 days later. The rash typically affects your:

  • face, which is the most common site
  • palms of your hands
  • soles of your feet
  • mouth
  • genitalia
  • eyes, including the conjunctivae and cornea

A rash may come before or after fever and other flu-like symptoms. Some people may only experience a rash.

The rash associated with monkeypox consists of lesions that evolve in the following order:

After the lesions dry and scab over, they fall off.

The symptoms of monkeypox generally last 2 to 4 weeks and go away without treatment.

Here’s what the condition looks like in humans:

Possible complications of monkeypox include:

An infection in the cornea may lead to vision loss.

In severe cases, the lesions might merge together. This may cause the loss of a large area of skin.

In the past, the monkeypox virus was mainly active in tropical, rural parts of central and western Africa. Since 1970, it has occurred in the following countries:

  • Benin
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Gabon
  • Liberia
  • Nigeria
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Sudan

Historically, most reported cases of monkeypox are from rural areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, as of August 2022, cases of monkeypox have been reported in 87 other countries where the virus doesn’t usually occur, with 39,434 total cases reported worldwide.

Additionally, on July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with the monkeypox virus through the following substances:

  • blood
  • bodily fluids
  • skin or mucous lesions
  • respiratory droplets, for human-to-human contact

It can also spread through contact with objects, fabrics, or surfaces that contain the monkeypox virus.

People who are pregnant can also pass the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the monkeypox virus can also be spread through intimate contact, which includes:

  • hugging, massaging, or kissing
  • oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse
  • touching the genitals or anus of a person with the monkeypox virus
  • prolonged face-to-face contact
  • touching objects during sex that contain the monkeypox virus, such as bedding, towels, or sex toys

Transmission can also happen through:

  • bites and scratches from animals with a monkeypox infection
  • eating the meat of an animal with a monkeypox infection

Scientists are still researching whether monkeypox can be spread by a person who has no symptoms, how it spreads through respiratory secretions, and whether or not it can be spread by contact with other bodily fluids, including vaginal fluids, semen, urine, or feces.

According to the CDC, monkeypox is rarely fatal. In fact, approximately 99% of people who get the West African version of monkeypox survive. This is the strain that’s responsible for the current outbreak.

Certain people may be more susceptible to severe illness and complications, including:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • children under 8 years old
  • people who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • individuals with a history of eczema

People who experience secondary bacterial infections tend to have worse outcomes.

Compared with the West African form of the virus, the Congo Basin form of monkeypox is usually more severe, It has a fatality rate of around 10%.

Before 2022, most confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States were associated with international travel or contact with animals that had gotten the monkeypox virus.

However, since May 2022, multiple cases have been identified in countries around the globe where monkeypox doesn’t usually occur.

As of August 17, 2022, 39,434 cases have been reported worldwide in 94 different countries. This includes 13,517 cases in the United States, with the highest number of cases occurring in:

  • New York
  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Georgia

On August 4, 2022, monkeypox was declared a public health emergency in the United States.

There’s currently no treatment for monkeypox. However, monkeypox is self-limiting, which means it can get better without treatment.

Some medications can be used to control an outbreak and prevent the disease from spreading. They can include:

  • vaccinia vaccine (smallpox vaccine)
  • vaccinia immune globulin
  • antiviral medication (in animals)
  • tecovirimat (TPOXX), an antiviral used to treat smallpox
  • brincidofovir (Tembexa), an antiviral used to treat adult and pediatric smallpox
  • cidofovir, which is typically used to treat eye infections caused by cytomegalovirus but has been used in certain monkeypox cases

Other treatments focus on managing symptoms using over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as pain relievers, topical creams, and oral antihistamines.

According to the WHO, the smallpox vaccine is approximately 85% effective in preventing the development of monkeypox. If you received the smallpox vaccine as a child and contract the monkeypox virus, your symptoms may be mild.

There are two vaccines available that may be used for the prevention of monkeypox, JYNNEOS and ACAM2000.

The CDC currently recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to monkeypox and those who are at an increased risk of contracting the virus.

This includes people who:

  • have been identified by public health officials as a close contact of a person with monkeypox
  • have had a sexual partner within the past 2 weeks who’s been diagnosed with monkeypox
  • have had multiple sexual partners within the past 2 weeks in an area where monkeypox cases have been reported
  • who have a job that exposes them to orthopoxviruses, including monkeypox

In addition to getting vaccinated, the CDC also recommends washing your hands frequently and avoiding direct contact with people who have monkeypox or objects that they might’ve used to prevent infection.

If you’ve had close contact with someone who has gotten monkeypox, the CDC recommends consulting with a healthcare professional to determine whether testing is necessary.

Doctors diagnose monkeypox using several methods:

  • Lab tests: This involves testing the fluid from lesions or dry scabs. These samples can be checked for the virus using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing a piece of skin tissue and testing it for the virus.

Blood tests aren’t usually recommended. That’s because the monkeypox virus stays in the blood for a short time. Therefore, it’s not an accurate test for diagnosing monkeypox.

Monkeypox is a viral disease and zoonotic condition, which means it can spread from animals to humans. It can also spread through contact between two humans.

The first symptoms typically include fever, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, it causes a rash, which can appear on or near your genitals, anus, face, chest, and extremities.

The rash consists of lesions that turn into fluid-filled blisters, which then dry up and fall off. The rash typically starts on your face and then progresses, usually to your arms and legs. However, it can occur in other parts of your body as well.

Getting vaccinated if you’re at risk, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others who have monkeypox can help prevent infection.