Skip to main content

Navigating the mpox virus

Signs, symptoms and treatment options

This article was last updated Nov. 29, 2022.

Mpox (formerly referred to as monkeypox) is a rare viral infection from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. While the virus’ symptoms are like smallpox, mpox is much milder and has a 99 percent survival rate. However, individuals who become infected and are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a weakened immune system may be more likely to get seriously ill or die. Children under the age of 8 years old and people with eczema are also more susceptible to complications from the virus.

What are the symptoms of mpox?

According to Shannon Raschke, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s team leader for Pharmacy and Clinical Programs, symptoms of mpox can include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, respiratory symptoms (e.g., sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough) and a rash that looks like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus.

Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash. The rash goes through different stages before healing completely.

See image description

How does mpox virus spread?

The virus spreads from person to person through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids. It also can be spread by respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling or sex.

“Mpox does not spread as easily as COVID-19 or other common illnesses,” said Dr. Gregory Buran, Wellmark senior medical director of Utilization Management. “It typically requires touching an infected person’s rash, touching surfaces that have been used by someone with mpox and haven’t been cleaned, or by respiratory droplets expelled by an infected person during close face-to-face contact.”

Mpox can start to spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed, which can take two to four weeks.

Who is at risk?

According to Dr. Buran more than 98 percent of those infected with mpox are adult men who acquired the virus through intimate contact with other men. Less than a dozen pediatric cases have been recorded in the U.S. Mpox is extraordinarily rare in children, especially young children. However, it is important to pay attention to new rashes and other symptoms.

“Have your child assessed by a doctor if a rash starts spreading or is something you’ve not seen on your child before,” said Dr. Buran. “Parents and caregivers should take any new rash seriously, particularly if it lasts for more than a few days or if it is accompanied by a fever. It is more likely to be the result of a common childhood illness such as hand, foot and mouth disease, but it’s good to be cautious.”

How can I prevent mpox?

Because mpox spreads primarily through prolonged close contact, avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like mpox. Also remember to wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating or touching your face and after you use the bathroom.

If you or your partner has recently been sick, currently feel sick or have a new or an unexplained rash, avoid intimacy and see a health care provider. Having multiple or anonymous sex partners may increase your chances of getting mpox. Lastly, try to stay away from objects and materials that could have been used by someone with mpox and may be contaminated with the virus.

How do I know if I should be tested?

If you think you have mpox or have had close personal contact with someone who has it, visit your health care provider. If your provider decides that you should be tested, they will work with you to collect the specimens and send them for testing.

What is the treatment for mpox?

According to Raschke there are no specific treatments for the mpox virus. However, antiviral drugs and vaccines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat mpox virus infections. Antivirals are often recommended for people who are more likely to get severely ill, like patients with weakened immune systems.

Raschke said, “The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to mpox and people who may be more likely to get mpox. This includes people who know one of their sexual partners in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with mpox and those who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks, in an area with known mpox.”

If you think you may be eligible for vaccination, contact your health care provider or local health department. They can help you determine if you should be vaccinated.

The CDC currently recommends that people with mpox remain isolated at home or at another location for the duration of illness, but that might not be possible in all situations.

Get help with mpox treatment

If you are not sure where to get treatment, or need help coordinating care for you or a family member, BeWell® 24/7 is there. You can get support from real health care providers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just call Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well.

Where can I get more information and stay updated?

Today, just about every state and territory in the United States has reported cases of mpox, with more than 20,700 confirmed cases nationwide. Iowa currently has 19 confirmed cases of mpox, and South Dakota has two confirmed cases according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For an updated case count by state, visit the CDC’s 2022 US Map & Case Count External Site. Get more information about mpox from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External Site, World Health Organization External Site, Iowa Department of Public Health External Site and South Dakota Department of Health External Site.