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I Caught Monkeypox and This is What it Feels Like

Monkeypox is officially in the U.S.—here’s what it feels like.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Monkeypox is officially in the U.S. with one confirmed case and another four suspected cases of the viral disease being reported in Massachusetts, Florida, New York, and Utah. Veterinarian Dr. Kurt Zaeske caught the viral disease back in 2003 after contact with a monkeypox-infected prairie dog, which was infected by a Gambian pouched rat. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Zaeske shared his experience of monkeypox and the scary symptoms he suffered. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Symptoms of Monkeypox Are Like Flu


"Initially I had handled this particular prairie dog, and it took several days before I started to feel like a rough flu was coming on," says Dr. Zaeske. "Chills, fever, aches, headache, maybe mildly swollen lymph nodes, just got dizzy, did not quite feel well. The interesting part was one of the reasons why we were looking at that one prairie dog was to euthanize it, so that we could send it to the Wisconsin state lab for analysis and testing. Because my client and his sister were both ill after he had lost the Gambian rat, and a number of his prairie dogs. And so we were doing that in an effort to find out what was wrong. Within about a week I started developing some pox-like lesions and a particularly nasty one developed on my thumb."


How Long Did Symptoms Last?

Sick woman and cold remedies.

"Well, interestingly the initial thing that I did for my client's prairie dog was to place them on an antibiotic combination, and all of his prairie dogs recovered, which would be unusual for a pox/virus-type situation," says Dr. Zaeske. "He was placed on an antibiotic, I was placed on an antibiotic when I went to the hospital and notified them of a possible outbreak going on, and I responded quite well to antibiotics. So the illness phase was fairly short for me. However, the pox lesions that I had lasted about two weeks. The lesion that I had on my thumb actually had  become quite serious. I was in fear of possibly losing my thumb and not being able to practice anymore."


Where Did Monkeypox Come From?

Woman Scratching an itch

"I ended up going in and having that lesion excised and biopsied, and that was submitted for analysis," says Dr. Zaeske. "It was during this particular time that monkeypox was actually diagnosed from a biopsy that was taken from a young girl in Marshfield, Wisconsin, who had  a pox-like infection. They were very concerned about the possibility of smallpox, but when they evaluated at Marshfield labs, they found that it was a pox virus, but of the monkeypox subtype. That's how we understood that that probably came in from west Africa, from the Gambian rat and then contaminated all the prairie dogs that were brought in."


Does Monkeypox Have Lasting Side-Effects?

Young man with skin allergy

"No, not at all," says Dr. Zaeske. "Once it was gone it was gone, kind of like chicken pox. I do have a scar from my thumb, but that was it."


Who Should Be Worried About Monkeypox?

woman showing her itchy back with allergy rash urticaria symptoms

While monkeypox symptoms are generally mild, the virus can be dangerous for people who are immunocompromised. Smallpox vaccines have been proven effective in preventing monkeypox spread, although virus experts are quick to reassure the public it is not as transmissible as COVID-19. "While investigations remain ongoing to determine the source of infection, it is important to emphasize it does not spread easily between people and requires close personal contact with an infected symptomatic person," says Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA.


How to Stay Safe Out There


Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, 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.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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