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3 Ways You Could Catch Monkeypox

Is it as serious a health threat as COVID?
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

In recent weeks, health officials have been tracking cases of monkeypox, a rare viral disease that has been reported in the U.S. You may be wondering, how can you catch monkeypox, and how likely is that? Is it as serious a health threat as COVID? Here's what the experts say. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Monkeypox?

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Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It belongs to the same category of viruses as smallpox, although monkeypox causes much less severe disease. It's a viral zoonosis, meaning it's transmitted to humans from animals, and then from human to human. The disease is endemic to Africa, although recently several cases have been found around the world, including in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. As of last Saturday, more than 100 cases had been found in 12 countries.


How You Could Catch Monkeypox

Waiter coughing into elbow while serving customers in a restaurant.

Monkeypox spread by close contact. According to the CDC, that means it can be transmitted via broken skin, the respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth. The most common ways to catch monkeypox include:

  • Through large respiratory droplets. "Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet, so prolonged face-to-face contact is required," the agency says.
  • Direct contact with body fluids or lesions
  • Contact with contaminated clothing or linens

On Monday, the CDC warned that although anyone can catch monkeypox, the disease was spreading globally among gay and bisexual men. But monkeypox isn't a sexually transmitted disease. "Anyone can spread monkeypox [from] contact with body fluid or monkeypox sores or respiratory droplets when close to someone," said Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.


Not "A Great Risk"

Man sneezing into his elbow.

Officials say the general risk of catching monkeypox is low. "I don't think that there's a great risk to the general community from monkeypox right now in the United States," said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, a veterinarian and deputy director of the CDC's Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, on Monday. 

"This is not COVID," she added. "Respiratory spread is not the predominant worry. It is contact, and intimate contact, in the current outbreak setting and population. And that's really what we want to emphasize."


Symptoms of Monkeypox

Woman removing adhesive plaster from the wound after blood test injection

A person with monkeypox may develop a fever or swollen lymph nodes. Headache, exhaustion, and muscle aches are common.

The telltale sign of monkeypox is a rash on the face or body that turns into raised bumps which become blisters. The rash may begin in the genital area and be mistaken for other issues like STDs, a CDC spokesman said Monday.

People with monkeypox are considered most infectious while they have a rash. The disease can last two to four weeks, and most people recover without treatments. The incubation period can be seven to 14 days, the CDC says. A person with monkeypox can be contagious from one day before they develop a rash to 21 days after symptoms appear. 

And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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