In May 2022, a small number of cases of a rare disease called monkeypox were reported in the U.S., Canada, and several European countries—places where the disease isn’t usually found. As public health experts work to stop the spread of the disease, here are some basic facts you need to know.

Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?

While monkeypox isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the monkeypox virus can be spread through close skin-to-skin contact with a person who is infected…which is the type of contact that happens during sex. So while not technically an STI, monkeypox can be passed on by intimate sexual contact. Most of the recent cases that have been diagnosed have been among cis men who have sex with men, but monkeypox can affect anyone of any gender or sexual orientation.

Monkeypox causes sores (see more on that below) on the skin. It’s contact with these sores, or fluid from these sores, that can spread the disease. So skin-to-skin contact, or contact with an infected person’s towels, clothing, or bedding, can pass on the infection. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also notes that the virus can be spread by respiratory droplets during “prolonged, face-to-face contact”….so, kissing and extended intimate contact present a risk. Currently, though, it’s not clear if monkeypox can spread through semen or vaginal fluids.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

The first symptoms are usually fever, headache, muscle aches, and backache. The infection may also cause swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. A few days after these first symptoms, a rash or sores (as discussed above) can appear. The rash or sores often start on the face and then spread to other areas of the body, including the genitals, where the sores might be mistaken for herpes or syphilis.

Symptoms can last 2-4 weeks, and the infection usually resolves on its own. However, if you have any symptoms, especially an unusual rash or sores, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

How can I reduce my risk?

As a reminder, monkeypox infection is very rare and there have been very few cases in the United States. But there are things you can do to reduce the already low risk. Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC) has some great tips on steps you can take, including:

  • Talking with your sexual partners about any symptoms (especially rashes) they may have had recently
  • Taking care of your own health by looking our for symptoms and avoiding sex and socializing if you do start to develop any signs of illness
  • Getting medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms listed on this page, especially if you have any rash or sores.

Where can I get more information?