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What to Do if You Get Monkeypox: Isolation, Treatment and More

A computer-generated image of the monkeypox virus
Uma Shankar Sharma/Getty Images

What's happening

The monkeypox outbreak in the US is spreading, but there are vaccines and other treatments available.

Why it matters

The outbreak isn't showing signs of stopping right now, so more people will get diagnosed with or exposed to monkeypox in the coming weeks.

What it means for you

Anyone with close contact to a person with the disease can get it, but monkeypox doesn't spread as easily as COVID-19 or the flu. People being the most impacted right now are men who have sex with men.

The monkeypox outbreak is now officially considered a public health emergency in the US. Monkeypox isn't a new disease, but the fact that it's spreading in countries where it isn't normally found is new. What's more, symptoms of monkeypox in this outbreak appear to be presenting a little differently. People today are getting rashes anywhere on their body, as opposed to the more "classic" rash in previous cases that started on the face and spread from there. 

Do you think you could have monkeypox or might've been recently exposed? Take a deep breath: It's normal to feel uneasy or uncertain, especially if your symptoms are causing you pain. But unlike the early days of COVID-19, there are already tried and true treatments and guidance for monkeypox because diseases like it aren't totally new to us. Monkeypox is related to smallpox and is endemic to certain countries in Africa.

Here's what the guidance says on what to do if you're sick with or have been exposed to monkeypox.

A man shaving his face with shaving cream

You should avoid shaving near your rash while you're recovering from monkeypox so you don't spread the virus to new parts of your body.

Luana Ciavattella /EyeEm/Getty Images

What to do if you were exposed to monkeypox 

You've been exposed to monkeypox, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you've had very close contact with a person with monkeypox. This includes things like sex, kissing, coming into contact with their rash or sores through a hug, or sharing a towel, bed or clothes. Monkeypox may also spread through prolonged face-to-face contact; researchers are  studying whether it spreads in body fluids like semen and vaginal fluid.

Get a vaccine, if you can

If you were exposed to monkeypox within the last two weeks and don't have any symptoms, you should reach out to your local health department to see if you're able to get a Jynneos vaccine. The vaccine is most effective if given within four days of exposure, but may still be effective at reducing the severity of symptoms if given between four days and two weeks after initial exposure.

While criteria for who can get one varies city to city based on how much spread there is in a certain area, chances are if you were exposed you live in an area that is offering the vaccine. Also, in areas like New York City, San Francisco, Denver and other big cities, gay and bisexual men who've had multiple or anonymous sexual partners within the last two weeks are eligible for the vaccine, regardless of whether they've been officially exposed.

Unfortunately, demand for the vaccine has been high and supply has been relatively low. To ensure your best chances of getting a vaccine soon and see what other resources are available to you, you should call your doctor in addition to the health department.

If you're at higher risk of severe disease for monkeypox (you have an immunocompromising condition, for example), reach out to your doctor to see if there are additional treatments or antivirals available to you post-exposure. 

People waiting in line for a monkeypox vaccine

People waiting in line for a monkeypox vaccine at a pop-up clinic in Brooklyn, New York. The government is releasing doses of Jynneos as states request it, but supply has been limited.

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Monitor for symptoms 

Right now, the CDC says you can continue your daily activities if you were exposed to monkeypox but don't have any symptoms, while continuing to monitor and watch for them. You don't have to isolate, because you're not contagious until symptoms begin (if they do). Common symptoms of monkeypox include fever, swollen lymph nodes or a new rash. You may also have pain in your anus or mouth if that's where the rash is spreading. 

The CDC also recommends taking your temperature twice a day to monitor for any fever that pops up.

If you develop symptoms or have a feeling something isn't quite right, you should avoid close contact with people and follow the guidance below. 

What to do if you have monkeypox 

If you've been to the doctor and a test confirmed it, or you were directly exposed and have all the symptoms of monkeypox, you should isolate from other people and stay home if you can until your symptoms resolve, according to the CDC. That includes avoiding public transportation where you may be in close contact with other people's bodies. 

You're considered infectious until your sores or rash scab over and a new layer of skin forms. The whole illness usually lasts two to four weeks. You should also call your health care provider immediately to figure out next steps, including whether you need to come in for additional treatment.

How do I know I have monkeypox? 

Symptoms normally appear within three weeks of close contact to a person with monkeypox. Common symptoms of monkeypox include: 

  • A rash or blemishes anywhere on the body, including the genital area, anus, hands, face, chest, or mouth. For some people, the sores can be really painful. 
  • Fever 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Chills 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Respiratory symptoms like a cough or nasal congestion

You may experience all or only a few of these symptoms. For people who experience flu-like symptoms, a rash normally forms one to four days after you start feeling sick. 

The only way to confirm a monkeypox case is to take a test at a health care provider, which involves swabbing the lesions. Testing capacity is improving in the US, but it still may take a while for your results to come back. While you wait, you should continue to isolate while you have symptoms, according to the CDC. 

Examples of monkeypox lesions

A few examples of monkeypox lesions. 

NHS England High Consequence Infectious Diseases Network

Isolate at home 

The CDC's home isolation guidance for people with monkeypox, is to avoid close contact and intimacy with people (hugging, kissing, sex, etc.). The agency also says you should avoid sharing linens and towels. (Like the bathroom towel you wipe your hands with.)

If you live with other people and are around them at home, you should wear a mask for extra protection.

If going outside is unavoidable or you live with other people, make sure to cover your rash or sores with well-fitted clothing like pants or long shirts, and gloves if the rash has spread to the hands. 

If possible, you should also use a different bathroom than the other people in your household, and avoid sharing food, dishes or used utensils. 

If using the same bathroom is the only option, the person with monkeypox should sanitize the shared areas (toilet seat, shower, bathroom counter, etc.) with disinfectant after use and wear gloves if needed, the CDC says.

Personal care tips 

If you wear contacts, you shouldn't wear them while sick to avoid accidentally infecting your eyes with monkeypox, according to the CDC. If you shave, you should stop shaving any part of your body that's covered in a rash for the time being.

Poxviruses like monkeypox can survive on clothing and surfaces, according to the CDC, which is why it's important to disinfect things you've touched while you're contagious. While how much of a risk there is in spreading it in public places isn't entirely clear, there are precautions you should take if you do your laundry in a public laundromat. New York City has its own guidance for doing laundry with monkeypox, and the CDC recommends checking in with your local health department to find the best "laundering option."

Avoid contact with animals 

Unfortunately, monkeypox is a zoonotic disease which means it's transmitted from animals to humans. That means there's a chance you can infect your dog, cat or other pet that's a mammal, like a rat. (Non-mammal animals like reptiles, birds and fish probably can't get monkeypox, per the CDC.) Technically, it's currently unknown whether cats and dogs can get monkeypox, but since they can be infected with other orthopox viruses, it's best to assume they can also catch monkeypox. 

If possible, the CDC recommends someone else care for your pet while you're sick or recovering from monkeypox. If that's not possible, keep them away from your bandages, bed, towels or other materials that may be contaminated.

If you notice your pet acting differently or think they may be sick after an exposure to someone with monkeypox, contact your personal veterinarian or a state animal health official. 

A dog laying on the couch

If possible, you should have another person watch your pet while recovering from monkeypox, according to the CDC. While it's currently unknown if cats and dogs can be infected with monkeypox, they can be infected with similar orthopox viruses. If they need to stay with you, keep them away from your used towels, bedding or other linens. 

Katerinasergeevna/Getty Images

Do I need treatment for monkeypox? 

Most people who have monkeypox do not need additional treatment, and the guidance will be to stay home and manage symptoms. However, some people have lesions that are quite painful, in which case you should call your doctor for help with pain management. Dr. Bernard Camins, the medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System, told The New York Times that a doctor may recommend sitz baths or stool softeners when appropriate. 

No monkeypox deaths have been reported in the US out of more than 7,000 cases. However, some people are more at risk of severe disease or may require additional treatment, including immunocompromised people, children younger than 8 years old, pregnant or breastfeeding people and those with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, according to the CDC.    

There are a few medications or antivirals that the CDC lists as possible treatments for monkeypox in some patients. Tecovirimat (TPOXX) and Brincidofovir, for example, have both been approved to treat smallpox and are also thought to work against monkeypox. 

If you think you may be at higher risk of severe disease and haven't already been offered treatment options by your doctor, ask about what might be available to you. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.