Monkeypox: what you need to know

UAB Infectious Diseases experts provide information about monkeypox and how you can take precautions to limit the spread.

Monkeypox streamMonkeypox generally causes a 2-4 week illness that includes a rash, fever, and painful lymph node enlargement. Most people will recover with supportive care only.On Friday, July 15, the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed that the first case of monkeypox was found in the state. Physicians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say there are steps you can take to protect yourself and limit the spread.

"I wouldn’t say it’s time to be worried but rather emphasizes the need to be knowledgeable and aware of the symptoms,” said Jeremey Walker, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. “The mortality rate for prior strains has been 3-5 percent, but this current outbreak thankfully appears to be lower.”

Monkeypox does not spread easily from person to person. But close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact appears to be the primary mode of transmission in the current global outbreak. It is possible that contact with materials used by infected persons, such as clothing and linens, can be a way to contract the virus. The virus typically enters the body through broken skin, respiratory droplets or mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth). 

Symptoms of monkeypox can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus.

The time between exposure to the virus and when the illness begins is about seven to 14 days but can be as long as 21 days. Some people who have had monkeypox have been men who have sex with men; but any person exposed to a person with monkeypox and close, skin-to-skin contact can be infected. Symptoms last from two to four weeks.

Walker says steps to help prevent monkeypox include the following:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has monkeypox.
  • Do not handle or touch the bedding, clothing or towels of a person who has monkeypox.
  • Have persons with monkeypox isolate away from others.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after contact with ill people who have monkeypox.
  • Avoid contact with animals that could have the virus (such as animals that are sick or that have been found dead). 

There are no treatments specifically for monkeypox virus infections. However, monkeypox and smallpox viruses are genetically similar, which means that antiviral drugs and vaccines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat monkeypox virus infections.

If you have symptoms of monkeypox, you should talk to your health care provider, even if you do not think you had contact with someone who has monkeypox.