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What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus in the family Poxviridae. It is closely related to the smallpox virus, which was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980.

Health Canada states that monkeypox is usually a mild illness, and that most people recover on their own after a few weeks.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The incubation period (time between infection and experiencing symptoms) for monkeypox is usually between 5 to 21 days. The symptoms happen in 2 stages, and usually last for 2 to 4 weeks.

Stage 1 symptoms of monkeypox include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • backache
  • lack of energy

In stage 2, occurring within 1 to 3 days of experiencing a fever, the individual develops skin eruptions (skin rash or lesions), usually on their face, hands, and feet. The rash may also appear on the mouth, eyes, and genitals. The rash lasts between 14 and 28 days and has different stages before finally forming a scab which falls off.

Most individuals recover without treatment. Newborn babies, children, and immunocompromised individuals are more at risk of severe disease and complications.

How does monkeypox spread?

An individual with monkeypox can spread the disease while they have symptoms. A person is considered contagious from when the first symptoms appear until the scabs have fallen off on their own and the skin is healed.

The monkeypox virus can be spread through:

  • bites or scratches from infected animals
  • contact with products from infected animals (e.g., furs or skin) or eating undercooked meat from infected animals
  • contact with sores, scabs, lesions, bodily fluids (e.g., blood, saliva, or pus from lesions) or mucosal areas (e.g., eyes, mouth, throat, rectum)
  • contact with contaminated materials (e.g., bedsheets or clothes of a symptomatic person or by sharing personal objects used by an infected person)
  • the placenta (mother to fetus)
  • respiratory droplets (produced by coughing or sneezing from close contact with an infected person)

Who is at risk of contracting monkeypox?

Monkeypox is typically found in central and western African countries. The cases discovered outside of these regions are believed to have been spread by infected travelers or animals.

In 2022, cases of monkeypox were confirmed in Canada, along with several other countries worldwide. The risk of infection is considered low for the general population.

People who closely interact with symptomatic individuals are at greater risk of infection. These persons include healthcare workers, people living in the same house, and sexual partners. Workers such as doctors, nurses, and laboratory workers are at risk when they:

  • make physical contact with sick individuals, or shared surfaces or objects
  • work with infected individuals in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces, especially when physically close and for extended durations
  • handling animals or specimens that may carry the virus.

What prevention measures can be taken?

The most effective way to avoid contracting monkeypox is by limiting exposure to infected individuals. It is currently not known if asymptomatic people (those who do not show any symptoms) can spread the disease.  Infected individuals should be encouraged to:

  • Self-isolate as long as they are experiencing symptoms
  • Cover skin lesions if possible (e.g., with clothing or a light bandage)
  • Wear a medical mask when near others, especially if coughing, sneezing, or they have ulcers or sores in the mouth
  • Avoid touching others (e.g., those providing care, sexual activity, etc.)

Anyone who must be physically present with an infected individual (or materials the individual has been in contact with) should:

  • use gloves.  Avoid direct contact with the skin lesions or secretions.
  • wear a N95 or higher-level respirator, eye protection, and a gown (for healthcare personnel who must enter a patient’s room)
  • frequently wash (with soap and water) or sanitize hands, especially after physically touching an infected individual or handling contaminated materials (e.g., clothes, towels, utensils, or objects that came in contact with their secretions)

Do not reuse contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE).

Clean and disinfect objects or surfaces touched by infected individuals.  Keep contaminated materials separate from clean objects and surfaces.

What should you do if you think you have monkeypox?

Immediately contact a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of monkeypox, particularly skin eruptions or swollen lymph nodes, or had contact with a known or suspected monkeypox case. Describe your symptoms and include how you may have been in contact (e.g., recent travel to a place where there was a monkeypox outbreak, close contact where there have been suspected infections, etc.). Healthcare staff can advise on your next steps.

If you have been diagnosed with monkeypox, self-isolate until all symptoms resolve. All scabs should have fallen off and healed before ending isolation.

What is the treatment for monkeypox?

Most individuals with monkeypox do not require specific medical treatment. Symptoms are usually mild and supportive treatment is usually sufficient. Healthcare providers can monitor and adjust treatment based on the severity of the infection.

Where can I get more information about monkeypox?

More information is available from:

  • Monkeypox – Government of Canada
  • Monkeypox – World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Monkeypox – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Document last updated on June 24, 2022

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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.