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Think You Have Monkeypox? Here's How to Tell For Sure

Monkeypox symptoms look like this, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Aaron Goldfarb

Are we on the brink of yet another virus? With monkeypox spreading across Africa, Europe, and now the US, experts are recommending caution but not panic. "This is a virus we understand: we have vaccines against it, we have treatments against it, and it's spread very differently than SARS-Cov-2 — it's not as contagious as COVID — so I am confident we're going to be able to keep our arms around it," says White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. Here is how to tell if you have monkeypox, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


This New Monkeypox Outbreak Isn't Exactly New

monkeypox tag, medical concept

Much like the COVID-19 virus, this monkeypox outbreak has been around for longer than we realized, experts say. "Clearly, this has been circulating in non-endemic countries for a few months. We don't know exactly how this began," says Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit in the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Program. "There's a lot of work around the genetic sequencing. But as we look to explaining this to a much broader audience, we're recognizing how little we know about this particular virus. And given that the entire world wants answers to questions immediately … we want to make sure that we're giving the most appropriate answers to everyone, but then also making sure that we are targeting those who are most at risk, to make sure that they have the right information."


Who Is Most At Risk?

Man at doctor's office.

All the evidence so far points to monkeypox being spread primarily through what Van Kerkhove calls "sexual networks". "Our surveillance is biased so far towards MSM communities. We've been working with countries to expand that and several countries have expanded surveillance to emergency departments, and ID clinics, to dermatology clinics. But they're not finding additional cases so far outside of the MSM community," Van Kerkhove says. "There have been a couple of health worker infections, but they were men who have sex with men. Based on the discussions that have been had with these cases, it's far more likely that it's MSM-related transmission than as a result of their occupation."


Smallpox Vaccine Protects Against Monkeypox


Older people are more likely to get severely ill from monkeypox, but the smallpox vaccine may provide some protection. "The bottom line is that even those that were vaccinated many decades before maintain a very, very high level of antibodies and the ability to neutralize the virus," says Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director of the National Institute on Aging. "Even if they were vaccinated 50 years ago, that protection should still be there."


Symptoms of Monkeypox

Woman Checking Her Temperature in Bed

So, how do you know if you have monkeypox? Here is what the CDC says to look out for: "After infection, there is an incubation period which lasts on average 7-14 days. The development of initial symptoms (e.g., fever, malaise, headache, weakness, etc.) marks the beginning of the prodromal period. A feature that distinguishes infection with monkeypox from that of smallpox is the development of swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy). Swelling of the lymph nodes may be generalized (involving many different locations on the body) or localized to several areas (e.g., neck and armpit). Shortly after the prodrome, a rash appears. Lesions typically begin to develop simultaneously and evolve together on any given part of the body. The evolution of lesions progresses through four stages—macular, papular, vesicular, to pustular—before scabbing over and resolving. This process happens over a period of 2-3 weeks." 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek the advice of your healthcare provider immediately.


I Have Monkeypox—What Now?

Sick man with face mask looking out the window being quarantined at home

"Any patient with suspected monkeypox should be investigated and if confirmed, isolated until their lesions have crusted, the scab has fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath," advises the World Health Organization. "Isolation can occur either in a health care facility or at home, provided the infected individual can be isolated and cared for appropriately. All efforts should be made to avoid unnecessary stigmatization of individuals and communities potentially affected by monkeypox."


How to Stay Safe Out There

Doctor vaccinating women in hospital

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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