What to Do if you Think You Have Monkeypox

Jessica Rendall Wellness Reporter
Jessica is a writer on the Wellness team with a focus on health technology, eye care, nutrition and finding new approaches to chronic health problems. When she's not reporting on health facts, she makes things up in screenplays and short fiction.
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  • Added coconut oil to cheap coffee before keto made it cool.
Jessica Rendall
7 min read
A computer-generated image of the monkeypox virus
Uma Shankar Sharma/Getty Images

What's happening

There's a global monkeypox outbreak, but there are vaccines and other treatments available.

Why it matters

Monkeypox can spread through close contact. Severe illness is uncommon, but symptoms can be very painful.

What's next

Most people with monkeypox don't require medical treatment outside the home. If you get monkeypox or think you were exposed, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of giving it someone else.

Coming down with a sickness that's driving an outbreak can be a scary feeling. And if you have symptoms of monkeypox, you're not alone: the US has reported nearly 19,000 cases since the outbreak began. 

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. 

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/Getty Images

What to do if you were exposed to monkeypox 

Anyone with exposure to a person (or, while this is less likely in the current outbreak, an animal) should monitor themselves for symptoms for 21 days, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You don't need to isolate (stay away from others) unless you develop symptoms. 

Having an exposure most likely means you had direct, skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox, since that's primarily the way it's been spreading. However, you can also get monkeypox by touching clothes or other things that person's rash may have been in contact with, or through respiratory secretions. Some scenarios where monkeypox may be transmitted include sex, kissing, coming into contact with someone's 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 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 confirmed exposed.

If you're at higher risk of severe disease for monkeypox (i.e., you have an immunocompromising condition), reach out to your doctor to see if there are additional treatments available to you, or if there's another step you should take 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. The monitoring period is 21 days or three weeks. 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.

But if you develop symptoms, what to do next will depend on what kind of symptoms. 

If you're monitoring for symptoms and start to feel sick (but don't have a rash or new skin lesion): Let's say you develop a fever, swollen lymph nodes or another symptom but don't have a rash. You should isolate (stay home and try to avoid other people) for five days, according to the CDC, even if this puts you past the 21-day monitoring mark. If after five days you haven't developed any other symptoms or rash, you can end the isolation, per the CDC.

If you're monitoring for symptoms and develop a rash: Avoid close contact with people, isolate at home if you can and follow the guidance in the following section.

What to do if you have monkeypox 

If you've been to the doctor and a test confirmed you have monkeypox, 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. 

But monkeypox can be a long illness (roughly two to four weeks) and if you're unable to be completely isolated for that long, the most important things you should do include keeping your rash or lesions fully covered with bandages and clothes, wearing a well-fitted mask if you need to be around other people, avoiding close contact with others, avoiding crowded areas, washing your hands often and remaining isolated while you have other symptoms, like fever or respiratory symptoms, according to the CDC.

You're considered infectious until your sores or rash scab over and a new layer of skin forms. 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 with a person who has 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 very 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 flulike symptoms, a rash normally forms one to four days after they 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. 

4 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 includes avoiding 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 dry your hands with.)

If you live with other people and are around them at home, you should wear a mask for extra protection. (This contains your respiratory droplets.) 

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, for the time being you should stop shaving any part of your body that's covered in a rash.

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 your own 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. (Nonmammal animals like reptiles, birds and fish probably can't get monkeypox, per the CDC.) 

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

If you notice your pet acting differently or think it 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 you're recovering from monkeypox, according to the CDC. If that isn't possible, you should try to avoid touching your pet, keep your rash covered and your mask on while also keeping your pet away from clothes or linens that may've touched your rash.

Katerina Sergeevna/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. 

While most people will recover at home, 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.