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Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus. It is typically spread through close physical contact.
The virus often causes a rash, which may look like bumps on your skin, blisters, or ulcers. Some people have a flu-like illness before they develop a rash. Infections with the strain of monkeypox virus identified in the U.S. outbreak are rarely fatal, and most people recover in 2-4 weeks.
Vaccine for monkeypox can help to prevent disease or make it less severe. If you think you may have been exposed or have symptoms, contact your health provider immediately. Visit our monkeypox vaccine page for more information.
If you have symptoms of monkeypox you should contact your health care provider immediately for an evaluation. People with symptoms may also be seen at Public Health's Sexual Health Clinic.
The medical and scientific community is still learning about monkeypox because the current outbreak is still very new. Information will be updated as we learn more.
Vaccine supplies are very limited. Get more information on monkeypox vaccine.
How monkeypox spreads
According to the CDC's most current information, monkeypox is usually spread from one person to another through close, often skin-to skin contact. Routes of transmission include:
- Direct contact with the infectious rash, sores, scabs from a person with monkeypox.
- Through skin-to-skin contact during intimate contact such as kissing, cuddling, or sex.
- Contact with objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
- Through respiratory droplets or oral fluids (saliva) during prolonged face-to-face contact such as kissing and other face-to-face contact.
People who get sick usually develop a painful rash. They can have flu-like symptoms including: fever, headache, back and muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion.
The rash can appear as sores on or near the genitals or anus, but sometimes occur in other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or in the mouth. Symptoms may include a single lesion or lesions on the genitals, anus and surrounding area, lesions in the mouth, and symptoms of anal or rectal pain or bleeding.
Sores often go through several stages, including scabs before healing. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy.
Symptoms usually start within two weeks of exposure to the virus but can start up to three weeks later. Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.
The disease can be serious, especially for immunocompromised people, children, and pregnant people.
Examples of Monkeypox rashes
Photo credit: NHS England High Consequence Infectious Diseases Network
What to do if you have symptoms
- If you have symptoms of monkeypox such as a new, unexplained rash or lesions on any part of your body, you should contact your health care provider immediately for evaluation. People with symptoms can also be seen at the Public Health's Sexual Health Clinic at Harborview
- Cover the rash with clothing and/or bandages
- Avoid sex and other close, intimate contact until you have been checked out.
- Avoid gatherings, especially if they involve close, personal, skin-to-skin contact or prolonged face-to-face contact.
- Talk to your partner about new or unexplained sores or rashes on your body or your partner's body, including rashes on the genitals and anus, and other symptoms and follow up with your provider if you suspect monkeypox or have questions.
- People with new rashes should also be aware that the rate of syphilis is rising in King County and nationally.
- If you don't have a provider or health insurance, you can contact Public Health's Access and Outreach program, 1-800-756-5437 to be connected to a medical provider.
About King County cases
Anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk. To date, most of the people diagnosed with monkeypox in King County have been among men* who reported close intimate contact with other men, sometimes with anonymous or multiple partners.
*includes people assigned male at birth.
Ways to lower your risk of monkeypox
- Decreasing the number of sex and intimate contact partners.
- Avoiding venues where people wear minimal clothing and where there is direct skin-to-skin contact.
- Events where attendees are fully clothed and unlikely to share skin-to-skin contact are safer. However, attendees should be mindful of activities (like kissing) that might spread monkeypox.
- Condoms may offer partial protection because they help prevent skin-to skin contact, particularly if there are sores or rashes on the genitals or anus
- Talk to your partner about new or unexplained sores or rashes on your body or your partner’s body, including rashes on the genitals and anus, and other symptoms and follow up with your provider if you suspect monkeypox or have questions.
- Two- page downloadable handout (PDF): Social Gathering, Safer Sex and Monkeypox, CDC
- Monkeypox facts, CDC
- Monkeypox Facts for People Who are Sexually Active, CDC
- Frequently asked questions, CDC
- Public Health Insider
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