Monkeypox: What you need to know about this rare virus


As cases of monkeypox continue to rise globally, this very rare infectious disease has hit home. A small number of monkeypox cases have been reported in Sacramento County.

Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, answers frequently asked questions about this disease, what we know so far and how to protect yourself and your family.

Is monkeypox a new disease?

This is not a new disease. Monkeypox has been around for years. The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Typically, monkeypox occurs in Central and West Africa.  

According to the World Health Organization, as of May 22, more than 250 confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported in 16 countries in this recent outbreak.   

What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox? At what point is it infectious?

Monkeypox starts with fever, then general body aches, malaise, and muscle aches. with the first symptoms are similar to influenza. Those usually precede the development of a rash. You have probably seen photos of the rash. It’s really hard to miss. It starts as macules, which are flat lesions. Then it forms a firm nodule. From there, it becomes a blister, then a pustule (a blister containing pus) and then it scabs over.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incubation period (The time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7 to 14 days, but it can range from 5 to 21 days.

People may be contagious at the early signs of fever and stay infectious through the rash until the skin scabs and heals over.

monkeypox virus structure

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is transmitted through close person-to-person contact with lesions, body fluids and respiratory droplets, and through contaminated materials such as clothing or bedding. 

Can you die from monkeypox? 

Most people with monkeypox will recover on their own. But 5% of people with monkeypox die. It appears that the current strain causes less severe disease. The mortality rate is about 1% with the current strain.

Is monkeypox related to COVID?

Monkeypox is completely different and not related to COVID. Monkeypox is related to smallpox. It is not related to chickenpox.  

What are the treatments for monkeypox? Is there a vaccine for monkeypox?

The smallpox vaccine has some cross protection against monkeypox. The vaccine is being made available through public health for people who have had contact with confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox. If the vaccine is given within four days of exposure, it protects about 85% of the time. Even if the vaccine is given up to two weeks after exposure, it may modify the disease, making it less severe. 

In addition, there are some antivirals and immunoglobulins that are available to treat monkeypox.

Is there a way to test for monkeypox?

If a health care provider suspects that a patient has been exposed to monkeypox, they can get a sample of a lesion and send it to the state for testing. If it turns out positive, the result will be confirmed at the CDC.

What should someone do if they think they have been exposed to someone with monkeypox?

Contact your health care provider. Clinicians are now aware of what to look for and can provide testing and treatment options.