How to spot monkeypox in a potential sexual partner, as cases spread and the US declares an emergency

How to spot monkeypox in a potential sexual partner, as cases spread and the US declares an emergency
Under a microscope magnification of 50X, this image depicted a section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus, 1968.Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
  • A monkeypox outbreak has caused an unusual number of cases around the world, especially in the US.
  • Monkeypox is not an STD but can be passed on through close contact, which includes sex.

The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, adding more urgency to its response as cases spread.

Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted disease, but it has been spreading between people having sex because it is passed on through close contact.

Here's everything you need to look out for to protect yourself and others.

It can start out looking like flu

Here are symptoms to watch for, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)

A rash appears before, during, or after flu symptoms

Most people will also develop a rash, a recent study found. It can appear before, during, or after flu-like symptoms, per the CDC.


The rash can be near the genitals, anus, hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth. There can be a single lesion or many.

According to the CDC, the rash can look like pimples or blisters, and may be painful or itchy.

Insider previously reviewed the difference between a monkeypox rash and other common rashes like acne, herpes, or syphilis here.

Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start. It can keep spreading until all scabs have fallen off a fresh layer of skin has formed, per the CDC.

How to spot monkeypox in a potential sexual partner, as cases spread and the US declares an emergency

Talk to your partner and don't try to diagnose monkeypox yourself

People should ask partners about recent symptoms that could be linked to monkeypox, the CDC says. If there is an unexplained rash or sickness, avoid sex until seeing a healthcare provider, per the CDC.


But don't diagnose the disease without talking to a health expert, as the symptoms could easily be caused by something else, an expert previously told Insider.

"My message is these skin conditions are not things that you should be trying to diagnose or manage yourself at home," said Dr. Esther Freeman, director of Global Health Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Insider's Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported.

Follow these recommendations to limit exposure

Although many infections have occurred in a sexual context, monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted disease.

That means it can be passed on through all kinds of contact whether it is sexual or not.

During sex, it can be spread by kissing, massaging, oral, anal, and genital sex. Objects like towels, fetish gear, sex toys, and toothbrushes can also pass it on, per the CDC.


A majority of cases have been reported among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, but anyone can catch it, regardless of sexuality.

Condoms do not completely protect from transmission, though they can help if the rash is near the genitals or anus.

If you're unsure of whether someone might have been exposed, it's best to avoid skin-to-skin contact and kissing. Keeping clothes on during sex can also reduce the risk of touching the contagious lesions, per the CDC.

Virtual sex or masturbation at a distance of six feet or more are safe ways to be intimate with someone who has monkeypox, per the CDC.

The WHO has also recommended exchanging contact information with partners so they can be informed in case they were exposed within 21 days of the symptoms.


Monkeypox is a serious disease that can cause severe pain

Monkeypox is a serious viral disease that is spreading at an unprecedented rate. Almost 27,000 cases have been reported in 88 countries, per the CDC.

It can cause excruciating pain. Symptoms mostly resolve on their own, but some have been hospitalized to treat the pain. In this outbreak, it has very rarely been life-threatening, though a few deaths have been reported.

Pregnant people, children under the age of 8, people with eczema, and people with weakened immune systems may be at greater risk from monkeypox, Insider previously reported.

There is no monkeypox vaccine widely available, but evidence suggests the smallpox vaccine provides some level of protection against the disease, Insider previously reported.