Monkeypox is a viral illness which can be contracted by infected people, animals, or objects that have been touched. Sores and scabs are particularly infectious. It can also be transmitted vertically, meaning from mothers to their unborn children. In Africa it is thought to be carried by infected rodents.
Monkeypox was seldom seen in Africa when smallpox vaccines were given routinely, since smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970’s and smallpox vaccines were eliminated in 1980. In 1917 an outbreak of 115 confirmed cases was seen in Nigeria, and as of May, 2022, it is spreading rapidly throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Specific tests for monkeypox are rapidly being developed, manufactured, and distributed to public health departments throughout the United States. The CDC is considering expanding its testing facilities. When more testing and more rapid testing is available, careful studies will show exactly how contagious this disease is.
If anyone you know has monkeypox, avoid close contact and face-to-face breathing, kissing, or body contact. If you are caring for a patient with monkeypox, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly. Wash your clothes, the patient’s clothes, and bed linens. Clean surfaces the patient has touched with chlorine bleach and add a tablespoon of bleach to the dishwasher.
If you suspect you might have been exposed to monkeypox, see your family doctor or public health clinic. The incubation period is between 7 to 14 days—meaning in that time the exposed person usually do not show symptoms and are not contagious. After that they can enter a prodromal phase, during which they can experience:
- Fever and chills
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes (bumps in neck, underarms, groin)
One to 3 days after the fever appears, a rash develops, with virus-containing pustules. These pustules are particularly contagious, so be cautious.