New symptoms of monkeypox differ from previous outbreaks: Here’s what to look out for

With more than 22,000 confirmed cases worldwide, the World Health Organization has declared the current monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency. As of July 28, nearly 5,000 cases have been reported in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox has been endemic in West and Central Africa for many years. But its spread in 2022 to dozens of countries where it is not usually reported, particularly the US, UK and Spain, is worrying public health officials. This is especially true because monkeypox is a little different than previous outbreaks, including a painful rash, blisters, and open sores.

Currently, most cases in the U.S. occur among men who have sex with men, but health officials have made it clear that monkeypox can occur through skin-to-skin contact.

Here are the signs to look for, including the early signs of monkeypox and how the current outbreak is different from past ones. For more information, read about monkeypox testing, transmission, and treatment.

What is monkey pox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as the variola virus that causes smallpox, but it is milder and rarely fatal.

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

A particle of monkeypox virus under the microscope.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Initially, transmission was mainly through animal contact, but by 1996 most outbreaks in the Congo were human-to-human. The first cases of monkeypox in the U.S. were reported in 2003, all linked to infected prairie dogs.

The case fatality rate is very low, between 1% and 10%, and deaths occur mostly in young children and those who are immunocompromised due to HIV.

What are the early symptoms of monkeypox?

Many people don’t realize they have monkeypox, but some early symptoms may include flu-like symptoms:

  • don’t hesitate
  • a headache
  • to be tired
  • sore throat
  • find muscle
  • swollen lymph nodes.

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

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkey pox can appear as pimple-like or blister-like rashes or private sores and can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the hands, face, chest, groin, and inside the mouth or anus.

The sores may be flat or raised, filled with clear or yellowish fluid, and eventually dry out and fall off.

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

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

But in recent cases in the West, some patients have developed a localized rash – usually around the genitals or anus – that is very painful. Others develop spots that look more like pimples or blisters than a widespread rash. And flu-like symptoms may never appear.

Blisters on hands of monkeypox patient

Blisters on hands of monkeypox patient.

Courtesy of CDC/Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, some patients in the U.S. have experienced proctitis, an inflammation of the rectal mucosa that can cause diarrhea, bleeding, and discharge, as well as a constant need to go to the bathroom.

The CDC warned that any presentation could lead to monkeypox being misdiagnosed or missed altogether.

Read more: How can I get the monkeypox vaccine?

How long do monkeypox symptoms last?

According to the CDC, the illness usually lasts two to four weeks, but the incubation period ranges from five to 21 days. This means that people can develop symptoms within three weeks of being infected.

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is generally thought to be non-contagious during the incubation period. Generally, you can spread monkeypox until the sores have healed and a new layer of skin has formed.

Transmission can occur through sores, rashes, scabs, or direct skin-to-skin contact with fluids. It can also be spread by touching an infected person’s face, clothing, or other items.

The virus can also be spread through contact with respiratory tract secretions, but transmission through semen or vaginal fluid is not yet known.

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

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