Published on June 3, 2022 at 8:00

Monkeypox, or simian smallpox, is a rare disease caused by a virus. The virus is in the same family as the smallpox virus. Rodents are the primary source of the monkeypox virus. It can be spread from animals to humans, between humans, or through contact with contaminated objects.

Symptoms usually appear 5 to 7 days after infection, but may take up to 21 days to appear. Infected individuals can be contagious 5 days before symptoms appear, and until the skin lesions have scabbed over and fallen off. Symptoms occur in two stages. The first stage includes the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Extreme fatigue

A rash develops in stage two of the illness, usually a few days after the onset of fever. The rash typically lasts 2 to 4 weeks and eventually forms a scab that falls off by itself. In most cases, the rash appears on the face and extremities. It can affect the hands, feet, mouth, and genitals.

Causes and triggers

The risk of contagion in the absence of symptoms is very low. The risk is greatest in the event of contact with an infected person who presents symptoms. The virus can be transmitted through contact with the following:

  • Skin lesions
  • Bodily fluids (blood, secretions, saliva)
  • Mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, throat, rectum)
  • Contaminated objects (e.g., bedding and clothing used by the infected person)
  • Respiratory droplets

Some people may develop skin and lung infections. In rare cases, death may occur.

Treatment

Generally, people get better on their own within 2 to 4 weeks. Medication can be taken to relieve symptoms. Certain antiviral drugs can also be used.

Vaccination is exceptionally used in people who have had close contact with an infected person. This vaccine should be administered within a few days of the high-risk contact.

The following precautionary measures can help decrease the risk of transmitting the disease:

  • Hand washing
  • Wearing a medical mask
  • Isolating the infected person or anyone who may be infected
  • Covering skin lesions with clothing or bandages

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider in the following cases:

  • You have monkeypox symptoms
  • You have been in close contact with an infected person
  • You have been in close contact with a person who is suspected to be infected
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