What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease caused by the monkeypox virus, a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus, this includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox). Monkeypox is characterized by rash or skin lesions that are usually concentrated on the face, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet.

Two distinct clades are identified: the west African clade and the Congo Basin clade, also known as the central African clade. Human infections with the West African strain appear to cause less severe disease compared to the Congo Basin strain.

In May 2022, several countries where monkeypox is not endemic reported cases, including some countries in the Americas. On 23 July 2022, the WHO Director-General declared the multi-country outbreak of monkeypox constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Visit our monkeypox outbreak site to stay up-to-date with the situation in the Region of the Americas.

Transmission

Monkeypox can spread to people when they come into physical contact with an infected animal. Traditionally, monkeypox is transmitted from person to person mainly through direct or indirect contact with the rash, bodily fluids (such as fluid, pus, or blood from skin lesions), and scabs are particularly infectious. Clothing, bedding, towels, or objects like eating utensils/dishes that have been contaminated with the virus from contact with an infected person can also infect others.

The virus can also spread from someone who is pregnant to the fetus from the placenta, or from an infected parent to child during or after birth through skin-to-skin contact. It is not clear whether people who do not have symptoms can spread the disease.

Treatment

There are no specific treatments for monkeypox virus infection. Monkeypox symptoms often resolve on their own without the need for treatment. Clinical care for monkeypox should be fully optimized to alleviate symptoms, manage complications and prevent long-term sequelae. It is important to take care of the rash by letting it dry if possible or covering it with a moist dressing to protect the area if needed. Avoid touching any sores in the mouth or eyes. Mouth rinses and eye drops can be used as long as cortisone-containing products are avoided. An antiviral that was developed to treat smallpox (tecovirimat, commercialized as TPOXX) was also approved for the treatment of monkeypox in January 2022. 

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What PAHO does

The Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) supports the Member States with surveillance, preparedness, and outbreak response activities for monkeypox in affected countries.

Given the occurrence of cases of monkeypox in countries within and outside of the Region of the Americas, PAHO activated its standard emergency procedures (SEPs) and established an incident management team with the active participation of personnel from over 15 entities of PAHO/HQ to ensure a timely response to the outbreak and lead preparedness efforts in the Member States. PAHO and its strategic partners throughout the Region, using a whole-of-society approach have launched a Response Strategy and Donor Alert to continue supporting Latin American and Caribbean countries. View more

WHO is working to improve access to a vaccine that was developed for smallpox (MVA-BN, also known as Imvamune, Imvanex, or Jynneos) which was approved in 2019 for use in preventing monkeypox and is not yet widely available.