Mpox, formerly called monkeypox, is a rare disease similar to smallpox caused by a virus. It’s found mostly in areas of Africa, but has been seen in other regions of the world. It causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, and a rash that can take weeks to clear. There’s no proven treatment for mpox, but it usually goes away on its own.
Mpox (previously known as monkeypox) is a rare disease caused by a virus. It leads to rashes and flu-like symptoms. Like the better-known virus that causes smallpox, it’s a member of the genus Orthopoxvirus.
Mpox spreads through close contact with someone who’s infected. You can also get it from an infected animal.
There are two known types (clades) of mpox virus — one that originated in Central Africa (Clade I) and one that originated in West Africa (Clade II). The current world outbreak (2022 to 2023) is caused by Clade IIb, a subtype of the less severe West African clade.
Mpox is rare. But the number of cases is increasing in Africa, as well as in regions that haven’t seen these infections before.
For decades, mpox was mostly seen in Africa. But it’s occasionally found in other countries, including the United States.
In the summer of 2021, a case of mpox was found in a U.S. resident who had traveled from Nigeria to the United States. Then, 2022 brought outbreaks to regions outside of Africa, including Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Anyone can get mpox. In Africa, most cases are among children under 15 years old. Outside of Africa, the disease appears to be more common in men who have sex with men (MSM), but there are numerous cases in people who don’t fall into that category.
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After exposure, it may be several days to a few weeks before you develop symptoms. Signs of mpox include:
The rash starts as flat, red bumps, which can be painful. Those bumps turn into blisters, which fill with pus. Eventually, the blisters crust over and fall off. The whole process can last two to four weeks. You can get sores on your mouth, face, hands, feet, penis, vagina or anus.
Not everyone with mpox develops all the symptoms. Different ways you might experience symptoms include:
You can have mpox and not know it. Even if you don’t show many signs of infection, it’s possible that you can spread still spread it to others through prolonged close contact.
Mpox spreads when you come into contact with an animal or a person infected with the virus.
Person-to-person spread (transmission) occurs when you come in contact with the sores, scabs, respiratory droplets or oral fluids of a person who’s infected, usually through close, intimate situations like cuddling, kissing or sex. Research is ongoing, but experts aren’t sure if the virus is transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids.
Animal-to-person transmission occurs through broken skin, like from bites or scratches, or through direct contact with an infected animal’s blood, bodily fluids or pox lesions (sores).
You can also get mpox by coming into contact with recently contaminated materials like clothing, bedding and other linens used by a person or animal who’s infected.
To diagnose mpox, your healthcare provider takes a tissue sample from an open sore (lesion). Then, they send it to a lab for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing (genetic fingerprinting). You may also need to give a blood sample to check for the mpox virus or antibodies your immune system makes.
Mpox is usually a self-limited disease (gets better without treatment) with symptoms lasting from two to four weeks. Following diagnosis, your healthcare provider will monitor your condition and try to relieve your symptoms, prevent dehydration and give you antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections if they develop.
There aren’t any currently approved antiviral treatments for mpox. If you’re very sick, your provider might prescribe antiviral drugs like cidofovir or tecovirimat. These drugs are approved to treat other viral infections (like smallpox), but researchers need to learn more about how well they work for mpox.
If you’re at risk for mpox, getting vaccinated helps stop the spread. Other forms of prevention include decreasing human contact with infected animals and limiting person-to-person spread.
Vaccines developed for smallpox also provide protection against mpox. Mpox vaccines are currently only recommended for people who’ve been exposed to, or are likely to be exposed to, mpox. You might be at higher risk of exposure if:
If you’re a man who has sex with men, a transgender person or a nonbinary person, you may also be at risk if you’ve:
It’s important to get vaccinated before or as soon as possible after exposure. Talk to a healthcare provider if you’re unsure if you should get vaccinated. If you’d like to get your shot in a more concealed location on your body, your provider can give it to you in your shoulder blade instead of your forearm.
In addition to vaccines, other ways to help prevent the spread of mpox include:
Mpox normally takes about two to four weeks to run its course. If you’re exposed to mpox, your provider will monitor you until the rash resolves.
If you have mpox symptoms, there are over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help you feel better, including:
Call your healthcare provider if you:
Seek medical care if you develop the following symptoms:
The name monkeypox carries stigmas with it, including those about race. The World Health Organization (WHO) changed the name to mpox in November of 2022.
Although they both cause skin rashes, different viruses cause mpox and chickenpox. Mpox is an orthopoxvirus, while chickenpox is a herpes virus. Both viruses can spread through skin-to-skin or prolonged face-to-face contact, but chickenpox is very contagious and spreads more easily than mpox. People with mpox are more likely to have swollen lymph nodes than people with chickenpox.
The rashes act differently, too. While the chickenpox rash can appear in waves, mpox sores develop at the same time. Chickenpox symptoms — including the rash — tend to get better within two weeks, while it takes two to four weeks for mpox to resolve.
Smallpox and mpox are both part of the Orthopoxvirus genus, so they’re caused by similar but distinct viruses. Thanks to effective vaccines, smallpox was eradicated (is no longer a circulating disease) by 1980. Smallpox was very contagious and spread more easily than mpox. Mpox symptoms are similar to smallpox, but milder.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The last few years have been incredibly challenging — the COVID-19 pandemic changed so much about the way we lived and worked. Now, just as we’re starting to ease back into regular life, we’re hearing media stories about mpox as an emerging threat. But mpox is a rare disease. It’s spread through close contact, like kissing and sex, but we’re still learning about how mpox spreads in humans.
The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated if you’re at high risk, avoid contact with people who are infected, wash your hands frequently and wear a face mask in crowded, indoor spaces. Early symptoms of mpox are flu-like and include fever, chills and body aches. After a few days, a rash will begin to develop. See a healthcare provider if you develop symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/25/2023.
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