If the last few years of the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that staying on top of outbreaks is important for safe travel. Monkeypox is the next virus up to the plate that has people around the world questioning their travel plans and researching ways to protect themselves from the virus.
Thankfully, monkeypox is currently a far less transferable virus than COVID-19. Understanding the monkeypox virus and learning how it is transmitted, what the signs and symptoms are, tips for protecting yourself, and the benefits of a travel medical insurance policy can help travelers feel more confident and educated on the subject.
Jump ahead to the information you need about monkeypox to help you stay healthy and be a safe traveler.
- What Is the Monkeypox Virus?
- 2022 Monkeypox Outbreak
- How Do You Get Monkeypox?
- What Are Monkeypox Symptoms?
- How Long Do Monkeypox Symptoms Last?
- How to Get Tested for Monkeypox
- Is There a Monkeypox Treatment?
- How to Protect Yourself from Monkeypox
- How Do I Get a Monkeypox Vaccine?
- How Does the Monkeypox Outbreak Impact My Travel?
What Is the Monkeypox Virus?
Monkeypox is a virus that was originally transmitted from animals to humans and was most commonly found in parts of Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Its symptoms are similar to smallpox but are less severe. More recently, the virus is appearing in more urban areas around the world.
2022 Monkeypox Outbreak
Historically, the monkeypox virus was primarily isolated to several central and west African countries close to tropical rainforests. Also, scientists only saw evidence of animal-to-human transmission, and no human-to-human transmission.
In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noticed the virus spreading across several countries that don’t normally report the monkeypox virus – like the United Kingdom, the United States, Portugal, Italy, and Canada. The virus was also seen spreading between humans for the first time.
In July of 2022, the WHO declared monkeypox as a Global Health Emergency with rising cases around the world. The CDC recommended vaccination for people who have been exposed to the virus or those who are at a higher risk of being exposed.
How Do You Get Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus that is transmitted between two people in close contact with “respiratory secretions,” as stated by the WHO. In other words, someone could get the monkeypox virus by coming in close contact with skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated items.
IMPORTANT! “Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact,” says the WHO.
There are a couple of ways monkeypox can be spread.
- Close, personal contact – often skin-to-skin contact
- A pregnant person spreading the virus to their fetus
Close contact exposure can happen in several ways, like:
- Direct contact with monkeypox rashes or scabs
- Direct contact with bodily fluids from a person with monkeypox
- Contact with respiratory secretion
- Touching objects and fabrics (i.e., clothing, bedding, towels, etc.) and surfaces that have been used by a person with monkeypox
Direct contact can happen during intimate contact with an infected person, like sex, touching of genitals, hugging, massaging, kissing, and prolonged-face-to-face contact.
IMPORTANT! The CDC states, “A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.” Keep this in mind when near people who have recently tested positive for monkeypox. Infected persons should isolate from others until completely healed.
What exactly do monkeypox symptoms look like? Check out the “What Are Monkeypox Symptoms?” section below for details on what to look for.
IMPORTANT! Monkeypox is NOT a sexually transmitted disease. However, it is often transmitted through close, sustained physical contact, which can include sexual contact. Check out the CDC’S Safer Sex & Social Gatherings page for information to help you make more informed decisions when you are in situations or places where monkeypox could be spread.
What Are Monkeypox Symptoms?
According to the CDC, the primary symptom of monkeypox is a rash. This can form on or near one’s genitals and possibly in other areas, like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.
Some other symptoms of monkeypox include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
- Respiratory symptoms (i.e., sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
Some people experience flu-like symptoms before a rash appears, while others get the rash first and then begin to experience the other symptoms. And in other cases, some people only experience a rash. If you are feeling unwell or develop a rash, contact your primary care doctor for next steps.
How Long Do Monkeypox Symptoms Last?
Monkeypox symptoms typically start within three weeks of exposure to the virus and usually last two to four weeks. For some people (but, not everyone), this means they develop flu-like symptoms that lead to the development of a rash one to four days later, says the CDC.
The CDC’s monkeypox symptoms page states that you’ll want to avoid close contact with anyone until all your scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed over. If you’re planning on doing any traveling, make sure your scabs have fully healed before packing your bags.
How to Get Tested for Monkeypox
Have you been exposed to monkeypox and are you experiencing any of the symptoms? Get tested! You can get tested at:
Is There a Monkeypox Treatment?
Though there is currently no treatment specifically for monkeypox, there are drugs and vaccines developed to treat and protect against smallpox (which is a similar virus). These treatments and vaccines may be effective for treating the monkeypox virus.
Rest assured, most people infected with the monkeypox virus fully recover within two to four weeks without need for medical treatment, the CDC says.
However, some people (like those with weakened immune systems or genital or rectal rashes) may need treatment. The drugs used to treat monkeypox require a prescription and can be requested by your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing any symptoms of monkeypox and have been exposed to the virus, contact your primary care doctor or a local doctor for details on treatment.
How to Take Care of Yourself While Fighting the Monkeypox Virus
Are you currently experiencing monkeypox symptoms? Have you tested positive for monkeypox? As stated above, most people infected with the monkeypox virus will fully recover within two to four weeks without medical treatment needed.
If this is the case for you, here are some tips from the CDC for taking care of yourself while fighting the monkeypox virus:
- Use gauze or bandages to cover rashes in order to limit its spread to others and the environment.
- Don’t pop or scratch lesions and rashes. This can cause it to spread to other parts of the body.
- Don’t shave over rashes until scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed over.
- Keep lesions and rashes clean and dry when not showering or bathing.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- If you have rashes on your hands, wear non-irritating gloves when touching common objects or surfaces.
- Wear a well-fitting mask around other people.
- Eat healthy and get lots of rest.
How to Manage Monkeypox Symptoms
Monkeypox symptoms can cause discomfort as your body fights the virus. Here are some ways, offered by the CDC, to manage the symptoms:
- Take ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin, etc.) and acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol, etc.) to help you feel better. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe stronger pain relievers.
- For rashes or sores inside the mouth, rinse with salt water at least four times a day.
- Soaking in a warm bath using oatmeal or other over-the-counter bath products for itchy skin may help relieve some of the dry and itchy sensation that comes with the rash.
How to Protect Yourself from Monkeypox
The CDC offers a few preventative measures for avoiding getting the monkeypox virus. They are as follows:
- Avoid close contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
- Avoid touching objects or materials used by people with monkeypox.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- If traveling in Central or West Africa, avoid contact with animals that can spread the virus. These include rodents and primates.
For more details on prevention steps, check out the CDC’s monkeypox prevention steps page.
Who Is More Likely to Get Monkeypox?
The CDC has identified people who are more likely to get the monkeypox virus. These include:
- Anyone who has had contact with an infected person
- People who are aware that one of their sexual partners in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with the virus
- Anyone who had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox
- Anyone whose job may have exposed them to the virus
How Do I Get a Monkeypox Vaccine?
Access to the monkeypox vaccine is limited due to the limited supply. The vaccine (JYNNEOS) is a 2-dose vaccine that takes 14 days after the second dose for immunity protection to reach its maximum. To get the vaccine, contact your healthcare provider or local health department.
So, who should get the monkeypox vaccine? The CDC recommends that the following people get the monkeypox vaccine:
- People who have had contact with someone with monkeypox
- People who have had a sexual partner in the past two weeks who has been diagnosed with the virus
- People who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with monkeypox
How Does the Monkeypox Outbreak Impact My Travel and Travel Medical Insurance Coverage?
Curious about how the monkeypox outbreak could impact your travel? Let’s look at the facts.
Keep in mind cases of monkeypox have been reported in many countries around the world where the virus doesn’t normally occur. (Check out the CDC global cases map here.)
- Do NOT travel if you have monkeypox. Isolate yourself until symptoms are gone and your rash has healed. Also, review “How Do You Get Monkeypox?” and “How to Take Care of Yourself While Fighting the Monkeypox Virus” for details on how the virus spreads.
- You may be subject to local laws and regulations if getting monkeypox abroad. If you test positive for monkeypox while at your international destination, you may be subject to local laws and regulations. Make sure to review these before traveling abroad.
- Some countries are screening arriving passengers for symptoms of monkeypox. If you have symptoms of the virus, you might be required to isolate and be tested.
For the most up-to-date information regarding the monkeypox virus in your destination, check out the country’s U.S. embassy website.
Monkeypox and Travel Medical Insurance
Consider purchasing a travel medical insurance policy like Atlas Travel® medical insurance from WorldTrips®. This is a travel medical insurance plan that can provide coverage for emergency medical expenses abroad and necessary emergency medical evacuation.
Just make sure you review your destination country’s travel advisory prior to travel. Most insurance plans restrict coverage for travelers who visit countries with higher travel advisories.
For example, if a local monkeypox outbreak causes your destination country’s CDC health notice to move up to a level 3 or higher within the 60 days prior to your Atlas Travel medical insurance policy going into effect—or if you fail to depart the location for which the level 3 or higher health notice is issued within 10 days—your plan would have an applicable exclusion for the disease and you may not be covered for expenses related to monkeypox on your trip.
Carefully review your plan’s policy documents for a list of limitations before purchasing, and regularly check in with your destination’s travel advisories.
Learn more about travel advisories and what they mean.
Travel Tips During the Monkeypox Outbreak
Are you planning to travel during the monkeypox outbreak? Here are a few tips for staying safe while traveling:
- Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
- Avoid contact with objects or surfaces that a person with monkeypox has used.
- Wash your hands often (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer).
For more tips, check out these 21 tips for staying safe while traveling.