University Health Services, Boston College
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus—the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal.
Boston College University Health Services (UHS) continues to monitor monkeypox. Cases reported in Massachusetts, the United States, and throughout the world, have prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. government to issue public health emergency declarations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thousands in the U.S. have contracted the illness, including cases locally.
Monkeypox is not a new virus: scientists know how it spreads and there is a vaccine and treatment for it. Staff in UHS are working closely with state and local public health officials to identify monkeypox cases and help provide medical care for any Boston College student who contracts it.
It is important to note that viruses can infect people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and ethnicities. As the CDC states, monkeypox is a public health concern for all, and while many of the reported cases have been among gay and bisexual men, anyone can contract monkeypox.
The following Q&A should help answer the most frequently asked questions about monkeypox:
Q. What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
A. Monkeypox symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms include a fever; head, muscle, or back aches; swollen lymph nodes; chills; exhaustion; and respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, cough, or nasal congestion. Visit Massachusetts Department of Public Health to learn more about Signs and Symptoms.
Most individuals with monkeypox also develop a new, unexplained skin rash that looks like pimples or blisters. The rash may appear on or near the genitals or anal area, but also can appear on other areas of the body like hands, feet, chest, face, and/or mouth. Example photos of the rash can be found on the CDC website.
Not everyone experiences every symptom, but most people with monkeypox will get a rash. Some people with monkeypox develop a rash before or without other symptoms.
Q. How is monkeypox transmitted?
A. Monkeypox spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s rash or respiratory secretions or through contact with contaminated objects or surfaces. Monkeypox is currently not defined as a “sexually transmitted infection” by the medical community, but it is easily spread during sexual activities. Person-to-person transmission most often occurs during close, personal, skin-to-skin contact, including direct contact with an infected person’s genital regions, hugging, or massage. The virus can also spread through respiratory secretions like saliva or mucus, or through contact with clothing, bedding, towels, or other objects that have been used by an infected individual.
An individual with monkeypox is infectious to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed.
Q. What should I do if I have symptoms or am exposed?
A. If you are a student and have a new, unexplained skin rash, and/or are experiencing other monkeypox symptoms and/or have been exposed to someone with the virus, please call UHS at (617) 552-3225, and avoid skin-to-skin contact and extended close contact with anyone until diagnosis. UHS offers testing for monkeypox on site and can help answer questions you may have. Faculty and staff who have the above symptoms or concerns should contact their primary care doctor immediately for assessment and diagnosis, as well as for treatment and isolation if positive for monkeypox.
Individuals infected with monkeypox will need to isolate for 21 days or more. Boston College students living off campus who test positive for monkeypox should isolate in their home or apartment. UHS will work with affected students who live on campus to help manage their isolation. If you have been exposed but do not test positive, you do not need to isolate.
Vaccination is recommended for individuals who have been exposed or are at higher risk of being exposed to monkeypox. If you are at increased risk of contracting monkeypox, the JYNNEOS vaccine (also known as Imvamune or Imvanex) is available via the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). The vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart, although limited supply might cause MDPH to recommend delaying the second dose. To obtain the vaccine, a health care provider will need to perform a risk and exposure assessment.
Learn about the eligibility criteria and how to access the vaccine
Once the provider confirms your eligibility, you can make your own appointment.
Please be aware that there is currently a limited supply of JYNNEOS. Vaccination is prioritized for individuals at the highest risk of exposure to monkeypox
People infected with the virus often have a mild disease that does not require treatment. While UHS does not currently offer monkeypox treatment, our staff can help coordinate care with a local provider. There are no monkeypox-specific treatments, but antivirals—such as tecovirimat (TPOXX)—may be recommended for people who are more likely to get severely ill. People with weakened immune systems, children under eight years of age, people with a history of skin disorders like eczema, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be more likely to get seriously ill. If you become infected with monkeypox and meet criteria for antiviral treatment, your health care provider may recommend TPOXX.
Q. How can I protect myself?
- If you are having direct skin-to-skin contact with someone, ask if they have any symptoms of monkeypox. If you have symptoms, seek medical care before engaging in any direct skin-to-skin activity.
- Be sure to avoid touching any rash and do not share items like towels, toothbrushes, etc.
- Although monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, such contact is a common method of transmission. If you or your sexual partner have noticed a rash or bumps in the genital area, you should avoid direct skin-to-skin contact and consult with a clinician right away by calling University Health Services.
- It is also advisable to avoid sharing used bedding, towels, or clothes. For an expanded guide to prevention strategies, visit the CDC website.
Q. What is the incubation period, and how long does monkeypox last?
A. The incubation period, or the time it takes to develop the infection after being exposed, is 3-17 days. Current data suggest people can be infectious or spread monkeypox from the time symptoms start until all symptoms, including skin lesions, have resolved. The illness can last 2-4 weeks.
Q. Is monkeypox fatal?
A. Deaths from monkeypox is extremely rare. The current outbreak has recorded only five deaths in almost 14,000 cases. However, monkeypox can lead to more serious complications, like pneumonia. Though it is rarely fatal, it can be extremely painful and uncomfortable.
Q. Where can I learn more?
A. For more information about monkeypox, including prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment, please visit the CDC website. Their Frequently Asked Questions page provides detailed information on numerous topics. More on the illness can also be found on Mass General Brigham’s monkeypox webpage.