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What you need to know about monkeypox

The 2022 monkeypox outbreak began in May, with clusters of infections in the United Kingdom. Since then, cases of the virus have been reported in nearly every state in the U.S., including Connecticut and New York, which has emerged as a national hotspot. Here’s what you need to know about the virus and how to prevent its spread.
An image from an electron microscope of the monkeypox virus (orange) on infected cells (green).
An image from an electron microscope of the monkeypox virus (orange) on infected cells (green).

Information provided by the CDC.

How will I know if I have monkeypox?

Monkeypox’s most common symptom is a painful or itchy rash, commonly located on the genitals or anus, but potentially in other areas. According to the CDC, the rash may look like pimples or blisters at first, and will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. For visual examples of monkeypox rash, visit their page on symptoms.

Other potential signs include flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle or back aches, headaches and respiratory symptoms like sore throat, congestion or cough. Usually, if you have these symptoms, a rash will develop within 4 days, but you may experience these symptoms after a rash appears. You may also only experience either flu-like symptoms or a rash without the other.

Can I get tested?

The CDC currently only recommends monkeypox testing for those with a visible monkeypox rash. New York and Connecticut have government testing operations running out of state laboratories, and both states have partnered with commercial laboratories, including Quest and LabCorp, to expand the availability of testing. Only healthcare providers may administer these tests, either directly in a clinic or by referring you to a lab. The test will usually involve swabbing a lesion or rash, and results will usually take 3 days. If you are tested, take precautions until you know the results.

How long is monkeypox contagious, and how long does it take to recover?

The virus can spread from the moment symptoms appear, which is usually within 3 weeks of exposure. You are no longer contagious once symptoms are over, your rash is completely healed, scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness may last 2 to 4 weeks.

Can anyone get monkeypox?

Although men who have sex with men comprise the majority of current monkeypox cases, anyone can contract the virus, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

How do I avoid monkeypox?

Monkeypox is most commonly spread through close contact with an infected person, either directly through sores, respiratory secretions, shared objects or fabrics. Because of this, monkeypox is commonly spread through intimate activities like sex or kissing — although it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease — or through crowded gatherings where skin-to-skin contact may occur. Monkeypox can also spread through scratches or bites from infected animals, or through contact with infected animal products like meat. A pregnant person can also pass the virus to their fetus.

To avoid contracting monkeypox, the CDC recommends you avoid direct contact with people who have the virus, or people who have a visible rash that may be monkeypox. Additionally, avoid contact with objects like sex toys, bedsheets or utensils that have been used by infected individuals. Frequent, thorough hand washing and sanitizing is an important prevention method.

Vaccination is another key step in preventing the spread, but due to nationwide supply constraints, widespread vaccination is not yet possible. In the meantime, practicing safer sex with less direct physical contact, especially with potential monkeypox sores, can reduce risk. Be sure to thoroughly and frequently wash sex toys, bedsheets, towels and other items that could carry the virus. Following up with sexual partners’ health in the weeks following intimate contact can also help you become aware of any potential exposures and take proper action.

I think I’ve been exposed. What should I do?

Immediately seek medical care, and wear a mask when visiting a clinic. Avoid sex or intimate contact until you’ve been checked out. Avoid gatherings and other settings where intimate contact can occur, and contact recent sexual partners to check their health in the weeks following sex.

How can I get the monkeypox vaccine?

Due to the severely limited quantities of monkeypox vaccine available in the U.S., both Connecticut and New York’s health departments only recommend vaccination against monkeypox for those who believe they’ve been exposed, those with comorbidities or those in particularly high-risk groups, like men or gender nonconforming people who have sex with men. Vaccination is not recommended for those already experiencing symptoms. Visit Connecticut and New York’s webpages for further details on eligibility, and to schedule an appointment.

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