Monkeypox: What You Need to Know
The White House has declared monkeypox a public health emergency. Monkeypox is a disease that can make you sick, including a rash, which may look like pimples or blisters, often with an earlier flu-like illness. While the current outbreak in the U.S. has high rates of known cases among gay and bisexual men, this virus is not limited by gender or sexuality and can spread to anyone, anywhere through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact.
There were 4 known monkeypox cases in West Virginia as of Aug. 12, according to an update from the CDC that day. There are likely more cases that haven’t been detected or confirmed.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?
People infected with monkeypox develop a rash that may be located on or near the genitals and could be on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth. The rash will go through various stages before healing, and the rash may scab over after several days. Initially, the rash can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy.
Everyone’s experience with monkeypox is unique, and so some people may overlook some symptoms. Unlike COVID, there is no test to confirm whether or not someone had monkeypox in the past. Health officials still don’t know how long someone may have immunity from Monkeypox after recovering.
There are other symptoms of Monkeypox that you should watch for besides just the rash. Some people experience flu-like symptoms before or after the start of the rash, but some only develop a rash. Keep in mind that some rashes may occur on areas of the body not easily visible by yourself or your partner (in the mouth or anus). The other monkeypox symptoms are:
🔹 Swollen lymph nodes
🔹 Muscle aches and backache
🔹 Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
How can I protect myself from monkeypox?
There is a vaccine available to protect people from monkeypox, but due to a limited supply you may not be able to receive it right away. In the meantime, you can still reduce your risk of infection with these tips:
🔹 Avoid direct and personal skin-to-skin contact. There is a higher likelihood of contracting monkeypox at events hosted in enclosed spaces where people can be expected to have minimal to no clothing. Large outdoor events where people are fully clothed offer you more safety by minimizing your risk of exposure through skin-to-skin contact.
🔹 Know the facts before you have sex. Think carefully about sexual activity and how/if to have sex. Do not participate in any intimate activities if you have flu-like symptoms or have developed any unusual rashes or lesions on your body. More information on reducing your risk of infection during sex can be found below.
🔹 Practice good hand washing, especially if you’ve been around someone who has a monkeypox infection.
🔹 Mask up. Health officials say that wearing a mask can reduce your risk of a monkeypox infection. And, masking helps prevent the spread of COVID.
I’m planning to have sex — can I protect myself and my partner?
Sex is a natural part of life. It’s important for you to know the facts about monkeypox if you are engaging in sexual activity or plan to in the near future. Our friends at the Human Rights Campaign published these eight tips for safer sex:
🔹 When to avoid sex: If you or your partner has or recently had monkeypox symptoms, or you have a new or unexplained rash, immediately isolate and see a healthcare provider. In some cases, symptoms may be mild, and some people may not even know they have monkeypox.
🔹 Contactless sexual activities: Reducing your chances of spreading the virus would include getting more creative in contactless sex such as virtual sex, or masturbation at least 6 feet away. Avoid kissing, cover lesions and rashes, and wash sheets, clothes and sex toys. Do not share sex toys.
🔹 Communicate: Be transparent with sexual partners about any recent illnesses or new sores you’ve experienced and be aware of anything new on you or your partner’s body.
🔹 Get vaccinated: Your protection will be highest two weeks after your second dose of the monkeypox vaccine. Reducing or avoiding behaviors that increase risk of monkeypox between your first and second shots are recommended. Consider a brief break of activities that may increase exposure the virus.
🔹 Get contact info: Be sure to exchange contact info with any new sexual partner to allow for sexual health follow-up, if needed.
🔹 Condoms: Condoms may protect your anus, mouth, penis, or vagina from exposure to monkeypox. However, condoms help but are not completely full proof in MPV prevention and do not protect other parts of your body.
🔹 Raves, parties, clubs, saunas, bathhouses & festivals: events where there is minimal clothing, kissing, direct, personal, often skin-to-skin contact has some risk. Avoid any rash you see on others and consider minimizing skin-to-skin contact.
🔹 Other parties: Spaces like back rooms, saunas, sex clubs, or private and public sex parties, where intimate, often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs—are more likely to spread monkeypox.
Is there a monkeypox vaccine?
Because monkeypox and smallpox viruses are genetically similar, vaccines that protect against smallpox viruses may be used to prevent monkeypox infections, according to the CDC. The Monkeypox vaccine is safe and effective. Right now, only two groups of people in West Virginia are eligible to receive the vaccine: people who have been in close contact with someone who has a monkeypox infection, and some health care workers.
West Virginia has a limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine. The state gets these vaccines directly from the CDC and distributes them to local health departments. State health officials said that, earlier this week, they had enough doses to fully vaccinate a little more than 500 people, according to Mountain State Spotlight. State officials expect to receive more doses in October.
Some states are allowing gay and bisexual men (as well as other men who have sex with men but prefer a different label) to receive a vaccination without a confirmed exposure. If West Virginia updates its eligibility requirements, we’ll post an update.
I might have monkeypox — what should I do now?
If your partner or someone else in your home gets infected, you should follow CDC guidelines for isolating:
1. Don’t panic or feel ashamed — this can happen to anyone.
2. Contact your doctor or local health department immediately to be tested. It is not possible to confirm you if you have the virus by just looking at a rash. Typically, doctors will swab part of the rash to test for the virus.
3. If you test positive, you should immediately isolate from other people. It’s best to isolate alone at home, but if you live with someone (a roommate, partner, family member, etc.), you can lower their risk of infection by isolating alone in a closed off room. Try not to share a bathroom, towels, or other porous items with people who aren’t infected. The CDC published this chart to explain how you can lower the risk of someone in your home getting infected during isolation.
4. Alert your contacts who may have been exposed, especially all sexual partners that you’ve been intimate with in the last three weeks. An official from the health department may contact you by phone to determine which people may have been exposed. These officials want to help make sure everyone is notified quickly and anonymously, so be upfront and honest with them. They will NOT share your name/information with anyone they need to notify.
5. Cover your rash with gauze and a bandage. This can lessen the chance of the virus spreading to bedding, furniture, and other porous materials. The CDC published this guide to disinfecting items in the virus may live on. Researchers say the virus can potentially be spread through the air, so it’s best to wear a well-fitting mask.
6. Resist the urge to pop, squeeze or scratch the rash. This will not speed up the recovery process, but it may inadvertently introduce new bacteria to the lesion and increases your risk of developing a scar. Scratching the rash may cause the rash to spread to other people or other parts of your body.
7.Practice good hygiene and wash your hands regularly.
Remember: Health officials are still getting a handle on this virus, and your doctor may not be familiar with what it looks like or how to respond. Be prepared to advocate for yourself and ask to be tested for monkeypox if necessary. If you run into trouble accessing a test, please let us know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is monkeypox a “gay” disease?
No, monkeypox is not a gay disease.
As we learned from the HIV epidemic, framing infections as a “gay” disease is misleading and hinders our entire community from properly stopping an outbreak. We believe in being honest and straightforward about the risks our community face, and monkeypox rates are highest among gay and bisexual men right now.
Since this virus is typically passed on through direct contact once it’s introduced to a community, it is more likely to spread through that community among those who are in close contact with each other. Health officials note that high infection rates among gay and bisexual men could be because of our community’s proactive approach to sexual health (seeking testing, treatment, knowledge sharing) compared to other communities.
For press, here is information about covering monkeypox accurately.