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In 2022, a monkeypox outbreak began. There are cases in many countries or areas where this infection is not usually found, including in the U.S. and in Virginia. Below you will find more information about this rare, contagious disease, signs and symptoms, how it spreads, and what you can do to protect your health and prevent infection.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare contagious rash illness caused by the monkeypox virus. The virus is in the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox causes milder illness than smallpox, and is rarely fatal, but some symptoms can be severe. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), most people have mild illness and recover without treatment.

How does Monkeypox spread?

The monkeypox virus can spread from animals to people and from person to person. In this outbreak, most people have become infected with monkeypox when they come into close contact with an infected person. Spread can occur from touching skin lesions, bodily fluids, or clothing or linens that have been in contact with an infected person. Spread can also occur during prolonged, face-to-face contact.

Some examples of how monkeypox can spread from person to person include:

  • Sexual or intimate contact
  • Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and massage
  • Sharing a bed, a towel, or clothes that have not been washed

Monkeypox does not spread through:

  • Walking past someone who is infected
  • Casual conversations with someone who is infected

What are the symptoms of Monkeypox?

People with monkeypox get a skin rash on any part of their body (it could only be 1 or 2 spots), which may be their only symptom.

Other symptoms of monkeypox can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and back aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Symptoms of monkeypox usually appear 6–13 days after exposure, with a range of 5–21 days. If you believe you have been exposed, you do not need to quarantine, however self-monitoring for the above symptoms for 21 days is recommended by the VDH.

What do I do if I have symptoms?

If you have symptoms, you should separate yourself from other people and pets, cover your lesions, and contact your healthcare provider to schedule a test.

It is important to call ahead before going to a healthcare facility and let them know that you are concerned about monkeypox.

You should avoid close physical contact with others until you have talked with your provider. If you interact regularly with pets, domestic animals and wildlife, VDH offers guidance on how to keep your animals safe.

If you cannot completely separate yourself from others, wear a well-fitting face mask and cover areas where rash or sores are present. CDC has additional recommendations for people who have monkeypox and are isolating at home.

How can Monkeypox be prevented?

Anyone can potentially get and spread monkeypox, but the risk to the general public is considered low at this time. The best preventive measure is to avoid having sex with multiple or anonymous partners, which is the highest-risk activity at present.

Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with another person’s rash or scabs. Avoid kissing, hugging, cuddling or having sex with someone who is infected. Do not share eating utensils and cups. Do not share bedding, towels, or personal grooming devices.

Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after contact with infected individuals.

Wear a mask if you think you have monkeypox and need to have close face-to-face contact with other people or need to have close contact with someone who may be infected.

Consider the events you attend and your behavior at those events. If there is close, prolonged skin-to-skin contact, the risk of spreading monkeypox is higher.

Vaccines are available for the prevention of monkeypox. Visit the VDH website to see if you’re eligible to get the monkeypox vaccine.