Monkeypox Symptoms Are Different From Previous Outbreaks: Here’s What To Look For

The World Health Organization has declared the current outbreak of monkeypox a global health emergency, with an estimated 18,662 confirmed cases worldwide. There were nearly 5,000 reported cases in the United States alone as of July 28, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox has been endemic in West and Central Africa for years. But its recent spread to dozens of countries where it is not usually reported – including the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain – has public health officials worried. This is especially true as the disease presents somewhat differently than in previous outbreaks of monkeypox, including a painful rash, blisters or open sores.

Currently, most cases in the United States are in men who sleep with men, although health officials have made it clear that anyone can catch monkeypox through close skin contact. .

Here are the symptoms to look for, including early signs of monkeypox and how the current outbreak is presenting differently from previous ones. To learn more, read about detection, transmission and treatment of monkeypox.

What is monkey pox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as the smallpox virus, which causes smallpox, although it is milder and rarely fatal.

It was first identified in laboratory monkeys in 1958, and the first documented cases in humans date back to 1970, in half a dozen children in central Africa. Today, monkeypox is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A monkeypox virus particle under the microscope.

Smith/Gado/Getty Images Collection

Initially, transmission was mainly from contact with animals, but in 1996 the majority of cases in an outbreak in Congo were due to human-to-human contact. The first reported cases of monkeypox in the United States date back to 2003, all linked to infected prairie dogs.

Mortality rates are very low, between 1% and 10%, and deaths usually occur in young children and those with weakened immune systems due to HIV.

What are the first signs of monkeypox?

Although many people don’t realize they have monkeypox until the telltale rash appears, some early signs may include flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, throat and swollen lymph nodes.

Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to, but generally much milder than, those of smallpox, which the WHO declared eliminated in 1980.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox can present as a rash or as individual sores that look like pimples or blisters and can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the hands, face, chest, stomach groin and inside the mouth or anus.

The lesions may be flat or raised and full of clear or yellowish fluid and will eventually dry up and fall off.

How are the current symptoms of monkeypox different from previous outbreaks?

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a June briefing that historically after reporting flu-like symptoms, “a characteristic, often diffuse rash appears on multiple sides of the body, often on the face, arms and hands”.

But in more recent cases in the West, some patients have developed a more localized rash – often around the genitals or anus – which is quite painful. Others develop blemishes that look like a pimple or blister as opposed to a generalized rash. And flu-like symptoms may never appear.

Blisters on the hand of a patient with monkeypox

Blisters on the hand of a patient with monkeypox.

Courtesy CDC/Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, some patients in the United States have reported proctitis, a painful inflammation of the rectal lining that can cause diarrhea, bleeding, and discharge, as well as a constant feeling of having to go to the bathroom.

The CDC has warned that the different presentation may lead to misdiagnosis or complete omission of monkeypox.

Read more: How is monkeypox treated

How long do monkeypox symptoms last?

The illness typically lasts two to four weeks, although the incubation period ranges from five to 21 days, according to the CDC. This means that people will most likely develop symptoms within three weeks of exposure.

Unlike COVID, monkeypox is generally considered not contagious during the incubation period. Generally, you can spread monkeypox until the sores heal and a new layer of skin forms.

Transmission can occur through direct skin-to-skin contact with infected lesions, rashes, scabs, or fluids. It can also be transmitted by touching surfaces, clothing, or other objects or being used by someone with monkeypox.

Contact with respiratory secretions can also spread the virus, although it is not yet known whether transmission can occur via semen or vaginal secretions.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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