Skip to content

Monkeypox Symptoms Every American Should Know

What to know about monkeypox and symptoms to watch out for. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Until this year, monkeypox wasn't much of a concern, but as cases rise across the United States, the White House has declared the virus a public health emergency. While monkeypox isn't a new disease, there's still a lot of questions about the virus like what the symptoms are, who is at risk, how do you get it and more. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder at Redirect Health who explains what to know about monkeypox and signs of the disease to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Should People Know About Monkeypox?

Man with sore throat

Dr. Johnston says, "Monkeypox is a virus from the smallpox family that can be spread from person to person through close contact. Symptoms are similar to smallpox but are less severe and rarely result in death. The virus was first discovered in 1958 in research colonies of monkeys which is where the disease got its name. However, the first case recorded in humans was in 1970. One symptom of monkeypox, swollen lymph nodes, does not appear in most pox cases, so this symptom can often be an indicator that you have monkeypox."


Monkeypox Should be Taken Seriously

Women scratch itchy arm with hand.

Dr. Johnston shares, "While we can hope and expect that monkeypox will not become a pandemic the way COVID-19 did, given the severity of this current outbreak, it is still a disease to take seriously and find ways to address across the globe. Luckily, most cases of monkeypox in the U.S., while still painful, have been mild, with most hospitalizations resulting from pain treatment rather than severity of the disease."


Why Cases are Rising

Virus mask woman travel wearing face protection in prevention for coronavirus at airport.

"The science is still out on why monkeypox cases are rising now," Dr. Johnston states. "Some attribute a jump in cases to the relaxed COVID-19 travel restrictions. With more people visiting places where infections are usually higher, such as Africa, human-to-human cases could be rising."


Monkeypox Misconceptions

couple in live holding hads while lying in bed together

There's been a lot of misconceptions about monkeypox and Dr. Johnston shares the following information about conflicting issues surrounding the virus.

"COVID-19: When hearing about monkeypox, many people compare the new endemic to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the disease is still concerning, it is important to note that the two viruses are not the same disease and come from different families. COVID-19 is a new virus and is a respiratory illness that can attack the lungs and results in a higher rate of death. Monkeypox, on the other hand, has been around for many years and is not a respiratory illness, resulting in symptoms that can vary from COVID-19. Also, while COVID-19 has caused a worldwide pandemic, a disease that affects many countries and continents, monkeypox is only classified as an endemic, which is limited to a certain geographical area.

Monkeypox in Gay or Bisexual Men: Many, but not all, monkeypox cases have been primarily in gay and bisexual men, however, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. The misconception that monkeypox is an STI affecting only gay or bisexual men has been a harmful one to people in these communities. The correlation we have seen does not mean that only people in these communities are affected. The virus instead spreads through contaminated surfaces or respiratory droplets, so anyone is susceptible to contracting the disease.  

It's Good to be Prepared: Many people are quick to dismiss monkeypox, especially after dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is okay to be worried, or at least prepared. Thankfully, the transmission rate of monkeypox is much lower than COVID-19, and usually results in less severe disease, but the virus is still contagious and can spread quickly with close enough contact. While luckily there has not been a case of monkeypox that resulted in death in the United States, the disease is still known to be quite painful and something we want to avoid. As a country, we do need to consider ways to prepare against this virus, including providing vaccines as necessary to communities across the nation." 


Monkeypox Symptoms

Sick man lying on sofa checking his temperature at home in the living room

Dr. Johnston says, "Monkeypox symptoms include fever and chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, along with back and muscle aches, headaches, and sore throat, congestion or cough. It is possible to experience all symptoms, or a combination of a few. Notably, many monkeypox cases result in a rash on the limbs or face, followed by other symptoms. Some can also experience flu-like symptoms with a rash that shows up a few days later. In some cases of monkeypox, individuals have experienced a rash with no other symptoms. Testing for monkeypox involves taking a swab of an open sore that is sent to a lab for PCR testing to confirm if the case is positive. This process can take a few days to get your results." 


How Contagious is Monkeypox

Guard in PPE suit uses infrared thermometer measuring temperature with African male worker scanning for Coronavirus or Covid-19 symptom at office elevator International medical healthcare system

Dr. Johnston tells us, "Monkeypox is considered to be less contagious than smallpox and is spread through close contact with an infected person. Close contact can be anything from touching skin or a contaminated surface, breathing in respiratory droplets in the air, or through bodily fluids. Researchers are still determining if monkeypox can be spread through asymptomatic individuals, and if it can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, urine, or feces."


Who is at Risk for Monkeypox


According to Dr. Johnston, "The largest risk for contracting monkeypox is simply being in close contact with an infected person. This can include intimate contact or being close enough to the person to breathe in respiratory droplets. Roommates, family members, or spouses of an infected person are most at risk while living in the same home. Luckily, a lot of habits we picked up from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing all help lower the risk of monkeypox spread. Those who are immunocompromised, pregnant, elderly, or under the age of 8 are considered a higher risk for a severe case of monkeypox."


How Effective is the Vaccine for Monkeypox?


Dr. Johnston says, "The vaccine JYNNEOS is a two-dose vaccine that takes 2 weeks after the second dose to be considered immune. An alternative to JYNNEOS is the ACAM2000, which is a single-dose vaccine with a 4-week waiting period after your first dose. Currently, the vaccine is only recommended to people who have been exposed to monkeypox or those who are more likely to get the disease. JYNNEOS became FDA-approved in 2019 as a vaccine for both monkeypox and smallpox. While there has not been much data on the effectiveness of the JYNNEOS vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Past data from Africa suggests that the smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. The effectiveness of JYNNEOSTM against monkeypox was concluded from a clinical study on the immunogenicity of JYNNEOS and efficacy data from animal studies."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather