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Your mpox questions answered

What is mpox and what are its symptoms?

Mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, is a virus that spreads primarily through skin-to-skin contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with mpox get a rash that may appear on the hands, feet, chest, face, mouth, or genitals. The rash may be very painful or itchy.

People with mpox typically experience flu-like symptoms 1 to 4 days before the rash appears. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion

The virus shows up differently for some, who may experience flu-like symptoms after the rash appears or only have a rash with no other symptoms.

The illness typically lasts 2 to 4 weeks. The rash will go through multiple stages, starting out flat and then becoming raised and fluid-filled. Lesions will scab before healing.

How serious is it?

The World Health Organization has called the mpox outbreak a global health emergency. As of March 5, 2024, the CDC counted 32,063 cases in the United States. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) counted 762 cases in North Carolina as of April 25, 2024.

It’s important to understand how to protect ourselves and others.

In the US, the mortality rate for people with mpox is low. But people with weakened immune systems, pregnant people, children under 8, people who are breastfeeding, and people with a history of eczema may be more likely to get seriously ill.

While deaths are rare, mpox can cause severe pain. Some mpox patients have been hospitalized, mostly for pain management.

How does mpox spread?

Per the CDC, mpox can spread in several ways. The most common is close, personal, often skin-to-skin intimate contact.

A pregnant person can also spread mpox to their fetus through the placenta.

Mpox can spread through contaminated objects (e.g., touching clothing, bedding, towels, or surfaces that an infected person has touched).

Researchers are still learning whether the virus is airborne, spreads through bodily fluids, and can be spread by an infected person who has no symptoms.

Who does mpox affect?

Mpox can infect and spread to anyone. According to NCDHHS, most of the people who have had mpox and are currently at increased risk are men or transgender individuals who have had multiple or anonymous male intimate partners in the last 14 days in an area where the virus is spreading. Cases have also been seen in women and children.

People living with someone who has mpox are also at risk.

How is it diagnosed?

If you suspect you have mpox, your doctor will evaluate your rash. They may order a blood test or swab the rash to look at a sample under a microscope. Your provider may contact the state’s public health lab to confirm. Then a sample will be sent to the CDC to confirm the diagnosis of mpox.

How can I protect myself and others?

The CDC recommends the following 3 steps to prevent mpox:

  1. Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like mpox.
  2. Avoid contact with objects and materials that a person with mpox has used.
  3. Wash your hands often.

If you think you may have mpox, contact your health care provider right away. The CDC offers guidance on what to do if you are sick, as well as how to prevent spreading the virus to others. The CDC advises infected people to isolate at home and avoid close contact with others until all symptoms have resolved and new skin has formed over any rash.

Vaccines are available at no cost to protect against mpox. However, supply is still limited. If you live in North Carolina, NCDHHS has information available to find out if you’re eligible for a vaccine and locate a health department near you that offers vaccines. If you live outside of North Carolina, contact a health care provider or your local health department for help.

Larry Wu, MD

Larry Wu, MD

Regional Medical Director

Larry is a regional medical director for Blue Cross NC providing consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He's a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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