What is monkeypox and how do you catch it?

What is monkeypox and how do you catch it?
© iStock/Bill Oxford

What is monkeypox? How does it spread? What are the symptoms? Health Europa outlines everything you need to know about monkeypox.

If you have watched the news, you may have heard about the rising cases of monkeypox across the world. But what is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a rare infection, mainly spread by wild animals in parts of west or central Africa1.

Health Europa outlines everything you need to know about monkeypox.

What is monkeypox?

The World Health Organization note that monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals)2. It is primarily found in tropical rainforest areas but can be transported across regions.

Various animals are at high-risk for this virus. These animals include rope squirrels, dormice and non-human primates.

How do you get infected?

The virus can be caught from infected wild animals in parts of West and Central Africa. Monkeypox can be transferred from animal to human by bite or if you touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs. However, it may be possible that eating infected undercooked meat or touching animal products from infected species could lead to infection.

It is crucial to reduce contact with an individual infected with monkeypox. For example, you can increase your risk of infection by touching contaminated clothing, bedding, towels or being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person1.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually appear anywhere between five days and 21 days and include:

  • A high temperature,
  • Headaches,
  • Muscle aches,
  • Backache,
  • Swollen glands,
  • Chills,
  • Exhaustion.

A rash tends to occur one to five days following the appearance of the first symptoms. It can begin on the face and spread to other body parts1.

Monkeypox treatment aims to relieve symptoms; the illness is usually mild, and recovery often takes two to four weeks. The virus can spread quickly; you must isolate yourself from friends and family if you are infected. A hospital stay may be necessary to treat symptoms and reduce spread.

Can you be vaccinated against monkeypox?

The smallpox vaccine has demonstrated strong efficacy against monkeypox. It is around 85% effective at preventing infection.

However, the original smallpox vaccine is no longer administered to the general public; due to the eradication of smallpox.

A new vaccine based on a modified attenuated vaccinia virus (Ankara strain) was approved to prevent monkeypox in 2019; there is limited availability of this vaccine2.


  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox/
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/monkeypox


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