Mpox (formerly known as monkeypox), is a contagious viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus. It’s spread from person-to-person through close contact, or from infected wild animals to people who have contact with them.
It’s important to understand that there’s no cause for concern in the general population, especially in the United States. Mpox isn’t naturally found in the U.S., and the few cases that have been reported in recent years were directly related to international travel to (or animal imports from) areas where it’s more common.
Below, we’ll tell you what mpox is and how it’s transmitted. We’ll also go over possible signs and symptoms of mpox, how it’s diagnosed and treatment options, if you need them.
What is Mpox?
Mpox is a rare disease primarily found near tropical rainforests in remote parts of some central and west African countries. It’s caused by the monkeypox virus – a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae (often abbreviated to MPXV). It’s part of the same virus family as smallpox, although mpox is much milder in comparison.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mpox is characterized by early flu-like symptoms of fever, headache and body aches, followed by a rash on the face and body.
The incubation period (time from initial infection to the start of symptoms) is typically around 7-14 days, and the illness can last 2-4 weeks.
The origin of mpox
Mpox was first discovered in 1958 when a colony of monkeys used for research became sick with a pox-like rash. As a result, researchers initially called the disease “monkeypox.” But recently, the World Health Organization officially renamed the virus to mpox. It was always a misconception that the virus was caused by monkeys, when in truth, it got its original name because monkeys were the first known victims.
The original source of mpox is unknown, but infectious disease experts believe that small animals like rodents and monkeys can get the disease and pass it to humans. The first known human cases of mpox happened in 1970, and since then, cases are closely tracked and monitored to prevent further infection.
What’s the difference between mpox and chickenpox (varicella)?
While they’re both in the “pox virus” category and can cause uncomfortable bumps on your skin, mpox and chickenpox are caused by different viruses. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (the same one that causes shingles), while mpox is an Orthopoxvirus (which also causes smallpox).
As far as symptoms go, mpox is unique for causing swollen lymph nodes and a fever before the rash appears. The rash sores also usually mature more slowly than those of chickenpox.
Should you be worried about getting mpox?
The risk for contracting mpox is very low for the general public, so there’s no cause for widespread concern. Generally, only people who live in, or travel to, certain tropical areas in central and western Africa are at an increased risk – as well as anyone handling animals imported from those areas, or in close contact with someone with mpox.
With that said, recently the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported a small number of cases of the virus – at least one being an adult who was likely exposed to the infection while traveling abroad. Health officials are investigating and maintain that the risk to the general public is still low, but it’s important to stay informed.
According to the CDC, reports of mpox cases have declined in recent years. While there are still reports of cases across the U.S. – that number is small. Health officials continue to maintain that the risk to the general public is still low, but it’s important to stay informed.
Mpox often begins with early symptoms that are similar to the flu, as well as swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), which is the body’s way of ramping up the immune system to fight infection. Some people will experience all symptoms, and others may only experience a few.
It’s important to note that mpox can be spread from 1-4 days before symptoms appear, so it can be spread before a person knows they have it.
Early symptoms of mpox
Mpox symptoms usually appear within three weeks of exposure to the virus. Symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat, cough or nasal congestion
- Swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
The main symptom of mpox: rash
Within 1-3 days of initial symptoms (sometimes a little longer), a rash typically develops. Some people will experience a rash before other symptoms, and some may only experience a rash.
- The rash usually appears as flat, red bumps that later become fluid-filled sores. The sores may resemble blisters or pimples.
- The rash usually begins on the face and can also occur inside the mouth. It can then spread to other areas of the body, including hands, feet, chest or near the genitals.
- Rash sores progress through various stages until they become dry scabs that fall off as the illness resolves.
- Sores continue to be contagious until the scab falls off.
How mpox is spread
In humans, the mpox virus is typically spread through close contact with an infected person through:
People can also get the virus through contact with an infected animal, or the animal’s cage or bedding. This typically happens in areas endemic (or native) to the virus, or through contact with an animal imported from one of those areas.
How mpox is diagnosed
Doctors can usually diagnose mpox with a physical exam. The characteristic rash is often present, as well as swollen lymph nodes, which can differentiate mpox from similar illnesses, like chickenpox. They’ll also ask you about potential exposure to an infected person or any contact with animals, as well as your recent travels.
Additionally, doctors can confirm the disease by taking a sample from skin lesions and examining it under a microscope, or by sending a sample to a special lab that can use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to determine the presence of the virus in the patient’s DNA.
Testing for mpox is only recommended if you think you’ve been in contact with someone who has it, or you develop a rash consistent with mpox. So speak with your doctor to determine if you should be tested.
Mpox treatment options
Most people who contract mpox get better on their own. Speak with your doctor about at-home treatment options for symptoms you may be experiencing. Recommended treatment options may include:
- Getting extra rest
- Drinking more liquids
- Keeping sores clean to avoid complications
- Using over-the-counter pain medications for relief from early symptoms, and pain associated with the rash
While there’s no approved antiviral treatment for mpox at this time, some studies have shown that the antivirals used to treat smallpox may be beneficial. Additionally, a two-dose vaccine called Jynneos can also be used to prevent mpox.
The vaccine is usually given to people who are at higher risk for the disease, such as health care workers of mpox patients, close personal contacts of those infected, and people who might be at high risk for a severe case of the virus.
The CDC doesn’t recommend broader use of the vaccine at this time, but they continue to evaluate their guidance as they monitor the situation.
Prevent yourself from getting mpox
Despite the risk being low, it’s always wise to practice healthy habits in your daily life to prevent getting or spreading illness. Whether you want to keep yourself from getting monkeypox, influenza, COVID-19 or another illness, here are some good habits to follow:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Don’t share food or drinks
- Keep a distance from anyone you know who is sick, and avoid touching their skin, clothes or bedding
- Maintain a 6-foot social distance from others in public when possible
- Keep surfaces clean (according to the CDC, common household disinfectants can kill the mpox virus)
If you have questions about mpox or another health-related topic, your primary care doctor is a helpful person to ask.
You can also get in touch with one of our nurses 24/7, 365 days a year at no charge. They can answer questions or give you advice based on the symptoms you’re experiencing and help you decide if it’s time to see a primary care doctor.
Call the HealthPartners CareLine℠ at 800-551-0859 or the Park Nicollet Nurse Line at 952-993-4665.