What Is Monkeypox Virus?


Did you know that there is currently an outbreak of an illness called monkeypox that's been spreading around the world?

Given the impact COVID-19 has had on our lives, it's understandable if you’re concerned about hearing about another globally circulating virus.1 Maybe you or someone you know has been diagnosed with, or suspects they have, monkeypox, and you're searching for more information on it. If you have connections to affected communities, you may be especially worried.

Monkeypox, (MPox), is a rare viral disease that spreads to people through close contact with infected animals, someone who is already infected, or even a contaminated environment.

Until recently, the MPox virus was typically only found in Central and West African countries with sporadic cases seen in other parts of the world.2 However, as of Spring 2022, a new outbreak of MPox is affecting many parts of the world that are not usually affected by the virus. Even in places where MPox is endemic, there are now more cases than usual in more areas than before.2

In July 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the MPox outbreak an international public health emergency.2 They're now working with affected countries to stop the MPox virus spreading and support those who are sick.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of MPox virus. You'll learn practical tips on how to reduce your risk of contracting this disease, as well as what to do if you suspect you've been exposed to it. We'll also answer some common questions about MPox.

So, if you're feeling a bit anxious or unsure about MPox, this article will guide you through the facts so that you can stay safe, healthy and informed about this rare but potentially serious disease.

Causes of monkeypox virus

MPox is caused by the MPox virus, which belongs to the same viral family as the smallpox virus.2 Despite not actually originating from monkeys, the MPox virus was first detected in macaque monkeys in 1958, hence the name "Monkeypox."1,3 Interestingly, the true origin of the MPox virus remains unknown. Today, it mainly circulates among wild animals, including rodents and small mammals, in remote areas of Central and West Africa.1

How does monkeypox virus spread?

People usually catch the MPox virus by direct contact with infected animals. Less often, it spreads between people through respiratory droplets, touching infected skin sores, or touching contaminated surfaces. MPox is known to spread through intimate contact with an infected person or living in the same household, but it's unclear if it can be transmitted sexually.1,2,3

The good news is that, although MPox can be serious, it is also quite rare, and the chances of catching it are relatively low. It is not very easy to get MPox virus from other people, and usually your body can fight it off without additional treatment.1,3

Signs and symptoms of monkeypox virus

If you get infected with MPox, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as:2,3

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and swollen glands in your neck and groin

Later on, you may notice a painful rash that starts on your face and torso and then spreads to other parts of your body.2 The rash changes from small bumps, to blisters and then to pus-filled blisters that eventually scab over, itch and fall off. These symptoms usually last two to four weeks and appear 8-14 days after exposure to the virus.3

Severe cases of MPox can cause complications, including:2,3

  • Brain inflammation
  • Lung inflammation
  • Sepsis
  • Dehydration
  • Cellulitis 
  • loss of vision 

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, it's important to get medical help right away as complications can be life-threatening.4,5

Management and treatment for monkeypox virus

Controlling the spread of MPox virus

To tackle outbreaks, we need global collaboration. That is why the WHO is involved in helping affected countries contain the spread of MPox virus and care for those who have caught it.

This involves:

  • Raising public awareness about MPox virus and how it spreads, especially among high-risk groups
  • Giving guidance to health workers so that they can properly identify, diagnose, and treat patients
  • And bringing together a team of experts to develop new diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments for MPox

With this collaborative action, we can end the outbreak and ensure optimal health.

Symptomatic treatment for MPox virus

There's no specific cure for MPox virus, but it can usually be managed with medical treatment to relieve your symptoms and prevent complications.3

Your treatment plan could include:3

  • Over-the-counter medicine, like paracetamol, to reduce fever and pain
  • Tablets and lotions to lessen skin itching
  • Rash cleansing with sterilised water, antiseptic, saltwater rinses, and warm salt and baking soda baths
  • Antibiotics to tackle secondary bacterial infections

It's important to take care of yourself while self-isolating if you have MPox. Stay hydrated, eat well, and sleep. Do things you enjoy and stay connected with loved ones virtually for good mental health. Do not hesitate to ask for emotional support if you need it.

People at higher risk of severe MPox, might need to be taken care of in hospital. This includes children, pregnant women, immunocompromised people, and those with skin conditions.

Antivirals for MPox virus

Antiviral medications are prescribed to certain people with MPox, like those with weakened immune systems and/or severe, complicated disease.

If you think you've been exposed to MPox virus or have MPox-like symptoms, it's important to get medical help right away, as early diagnosis and treatment can help improve outcomes and limit MPox spread.6


Why do we have global monkeypox outbreaks?

Unprecedented MPox outbreaks could be due to biological changes in the virus. It may also be due to in shifts in human behaviour over time, like ending routine smallpox vaccination, more international travel, increased social gatherings that may lead to sexual contact, and loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.2

Could monkeypox become the next pandemic?

While the news of a viral outbreak might be alarming, it's important to remember that the MPox virus is not as contagious as some other viruses. Unlike respiratory infections, such as COVID-19, MPox infection requires close contact with an infected person or animal to spread. This means we have a good chance of getting the outbreak under control quickly.

By knowing the risks and taking personal action, we can all play a part in controlling the spread of MPox virus and keeping our communities healthy. The WHO takes outbreaks very seriously and works to understand how the MPox virus spreads. They will also guide affected countries to help contain MPox virus and prevent it from spreading further.

How is monkeypox virus diagnosed?

Identifying MPox can be tricky as it can easily be mistaken for other infections like chickenpox.

If you think you have MPox, a health professional will need to examine you and take a sample to send to a lab for testing. The best samples are from skin lesions and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the preferred test. Interestingly, blood tests aren't very helpful for detecting MPox.

To get accurate test results, it's important to tell your healthcare provider when your symptoms started, when your rash appeared, when your sample was collected, and your age.

How can I prevent monkeypox virus?

Prevention is also an important part of managing MPox virus.

To protect yourself:1,3

  1. Avoid close contact with people who have a rash that looks like MPox. Refrain from touching the affected area or any scabs, and avoid intimate physical contact such as kissing, hugging, cuddling, or sexual activity
  2. Avoid touching objects and materials that a person with MPox has used, including eating utensils, towels, and clothing
  3. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially before eating or touching your face and after using the toilet
  4. If you are in Central or West Africa, avoid contact with animals that can spread the MPox virus, as well as materials they may have touched
  5. Ask your healthcare provider about available vaccinations. Because MPox virus is related to smallpox virus, smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective in preventing MPox. If given early on, a smallpox vaccine can stop you from getting sick with MPox, or make your illness less severe

How long does monkeypox virus last?

​​If you catch MPox, you'll probably feel unwell for 2 to 4 weeks, but then you'll start to feel better on your own.  However, if you have other health problems, MPox can be a lot worse and you might need treatment in hospital.6  For some, it can take a long time, sometimes months, to fully recover.7

Who is at risk of monkeypox virus?

MPox virus can affect anyone who comes into close contact with an infected animal or person. However, some people are at higher risk of catching it. If you live in or travel to areas where the virus is commonly found in wild animals, you're more likely to pick it up.1 Men who have sex with men also appear to be more affected by outbreaks.

Babies, children, pregnant people, those with weakened immune systems, and people with a history of eczema may be more likely to have serious problems or even die from MPox virus.15 

We must make sure we offer kindness and support to people who have contracted the MPox virus, rather than treating them unfairly or differently. They need our care and help to recover from this disease.

How common is monkeypox virus? 

Globally, there have been 86,500 total cases as of March 16, 2023. Of those cases, 85,089 were in places that are not usually affected by MPox.

Between 2018 and 2021, there were only 7 cases of MPox in the UK, and all of them were either in people who had recently travelled to countries where MPox is common or had contact with someone who had. However, as of December 2022, there were 3,732 confirmed or highly probable cases of MPox in the UK, mostly in England.

When should I see a doctor?

If you've been in contact with animals or people from areas affected by MPox virus and are experiencing symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and a rash, you should seek medical attention right away.


MPox is a rare virus that usually causes a mild, self-limiting illness in most people who catch it.  Until recently, it was mainly found in endemic countries, with very few cases seen elsewhere. However, the most recent outbreak has affected people in many different parts of the world.  MPox virus mainly spreads through direct contact with infected animals or humans and can cause symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, and a rash. In severe cases, it can cause complications like pneumonia or even death. There's no specific cure for MPox virus, but medical care can help you manage your symptoms and prevent any complications.  To keep yourself safe from the MPox virus, there are some things you can do, like avoiding direct contact with infected animals or people, practising good hygiene, and taking extra precautions if you work with animals or have close contact with infected people.


  1. Kaler J, Hussain A, Flores G, Kheiri S, Desrosiers D. Monkeypox: a comprehensive review of transmission, pathogenesis, and manifestation. Cureus [Internet]. 2022 Jul 3 [cited 2023 Sep 28]; Available from: https://www.cureus.com/articles/100707-monkeypox-a-comprehensive-review-of-transmission-pathogenesis-and-manifestation
  2. Thornhill JP, Barkati S, Walmsley S, Rockstroh J, Antinori A, Harrison LB, et al. Monkeypox Virus Infection in Humans across 16 Countries — April–June 2022. N Engl J Med [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 17]; 387(8):679–91. Available from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2207323.
  3. Cheema AY, Ogedegbe OJ, Munir M, Alugba G, Ojo TK. Monkeypox: a review of clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment. Cureus [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 28];14(7):e26756. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9365327/
  4. Kmiec D, Kirchhoff F. Monkeypox: A New Threat? IJMS [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 17]; 23(14):7866. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/23/14/7866.
  5. P AG, Patro SK, Sandeep M, Satapathy P, Shamim MA, Kumar V, et al. Oral manifestation of the monkeypox virus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. eClinicalMedicine [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Mar 18]; 56. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(22)00546-6/fulltext.
  6. O’Shea J, Filardo TD, Morris SB, Weiser J, Petersen B, Brooks JT. Interim Guidance for Prevention and Treatment of Monkeypox in Persons with HIV Infection — United States, August 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 18]; 71(32):1023–8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9400540/.
  7. Miller MJ. Severe Monkeypox in Hospitalized Patients — United States, August 10–October 10, 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 18]; 71. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7144e1.htm.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Phoebe Votolato

Master of Science (MSc), Experimental Psychology, University of Sussex
Clinical Medicine (MBBS), Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Dr. Phoebe Votolato, a London-based medical writer, melds clinical expertise with creative zest to craft captivating health stories. With a background in clinical medicine and experimental psychology, Phoebe is dedicated to empowering clinicians, patients, and their loved ones through accessible education. Explore more of her work on Medium and connect on LinkedIn. Off-duty, Phoebe immerses herself in the vibrant worlds of music and art.

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