NEWS

How to Get Tested for Monkeypox and What to Expect

monkeypox testing

Verywell Health / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • Testing for monkeypox allows clinicians to treat the illness and trace cases to minimize the spread.
  • Health providers can currently only test for monkeypox in people who have developed lesions.
  • Tests are available nationwide at doctors’ offices, urgent care centers, and some sexual and community health clinics.

The U.S. has confirmed more than 10,000 cases of monkeypox. But officials say that number is likely an undercount because of limited testing since the start of the outbreak.

In some cases, people couldn’t access tests when they wanted one. In others, testing seemed redundant, as it’s not possible to test until an individual has formed lesions—usually after it’s clear that monkeypox is the culprit.

Inadequate testing can leave health officials in the dark about the scope of the outbreak. The public health emergency declaration will allow the federal government to take new steps to rein in the outbreak, including expanding access to testing and collecting testing data from jurisdictions.

Here’s what you need to know about when, why, and how to get tested for monkeypox.

When to Get Tested

Many localities have contact tracing systems to identify people who may have been exposed to monkeypox. People who have a known exposure should minimize their contact with other people and keep an eye out for symptoms of the disease.

Early warning signs of a monkeypox infection include fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. After a few days, lesions may pop up anywhere on the body, including the face, hands, and legs. These can appear as a red rash, pimples, or bumps filled with pus or clear liquid. In this outbreak, however, many patients have reported seeing only a couple of bumps or having internal lesions, including in the throat and rectum.

If you notice lesions, you should contact your health provider to ask whether you might have monkeypox and request a test.

Some people experience the early flu-like symptoms of monkeypox days before lesions appear, and the virus can remain dormant in the body for up to two weeks without any symptoms.

For now, there’s no way to confirm these early cases—the test can only detect the virus in lesions.

While it may seem unnecessary to seek out a test after the tell-tale lesions pop up, verifying the case may allow your health provider to offer treatment or interventions for managing the pain, said Jill Weatherhead, MD, PhD, FAAP, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine.

“When there’s a positive case, the health department’s involved and then they can do contact tracing to alert other people who would have had contact with that positive case,” Weatherhead told Verywell. “It’s important from an individual and a public health standpoint.”

Where to Find a Test

There is currently no national website to search for monkeypox test locations. To find a monkeypox test, you can reach out to your primary care provider or contact an urgent care center near you.

Some localities and states have websites where you can search for clinics that offer testing.

Sexual health clinics have become key in addressing the current outbreak. The disease can look like a sexually transmitted infection, and it seems to be spreading largely through sexual contact among men who have sex with men. Sexual health clinics often already serve this community and can provide some anonymity that lacks in primary care settings.

The CDC now has contracts with five commercial laboratories to run monkeypox tests. These include names that may be familiar from the COVID-19 testing response, including Quest, LabCorp, and Aegis Science.

When a test is run by a public health lab, they are free to patients. But when tested by a commercial lab—like LabCorp and Quest—that may not be the case. People who are underinsured or uninsured may receive a bill for the test. However, the Biden administration said it is working to make monkeypox testing free to the public.

Partnering with commercial labs and bolstering public health labs allowed the federal government to increase monkeypox testing capacity from 6,000 to 80,000 tests per week in July.

What to Expect From a Monkeypox Test

Health providers collect a sample to test for monkeypox by rubbing a swab across the patient’s lesions. They usually don’t need to pop or break open any lesions to get a good sample.

The sample swabs are then sent to a lab, where they’re tested using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)—the same technology that has been used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your health provider may also run a blood test to check for other, more common diseases that can look like monkeypox, such as syphilis and measles.

There are currently no at-home tests available for monkeypox. Some researchers are investigating new ways to test for monkeypox that don’t depend on swabbing lesions or waiting for a PCR result.  

Sometimes, patients need a positive test result to get access to tecovirimat (TPOXX), the only available treatment for monkeypox. But if a patient is particularly ill and a provider thinks there’s a high likelihood that monkeypox is to blame, they may be able to get the drug without a test result, Weatherhead said.

While healing from monkeypox, the CDC said to avoid physical contact with animals and other people until lesions have scabbed over and fallen off and the underlying tissue is healed. This could take between two and four weeks. Read the CDC’s guidance for the best ways to self-isolate.

What to Do Before and After Testing

At the beginning of the U.S. outbreak, patients could wait as long as a week for results. The turnaround time has improved, but results can still take 24 hours to a few days. Weatherhead said the Houston health department is returning results in about 12 hours.

While you wait for your results, it’s best to assume you’re infected until proven otherwise. This means avoiding close contact with others, wearing a tight-fitting mask, and keeping a close eye on your symptoms.

It’s unlikely that a monkeypox test would produce a false negative. When a patient has lesions and other classic symptoms, the testing is “pretty straightforward,” Weatherhead said.

“This is a virus that we’ve known about for a long time—for decades. Testing has been available for this virus and for its relatives like smallpox, so this isn’t a situation where there’s new testing that’s being developed rapidly,” she said.

You should isolate yourself immediately if your test is positive and you are experiencing a fever or respiratory symptoms, like a sore throat, stuffy nose, or cough.

Monkeypox can primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact. But someone can also pick it up from an infected item of clothing, bedsheets, or shared surfaces.

“With COVID being airborne, there’s a lot more risk of transmission and very difficult to really isolate from people and prevent transmission,” Weatherhead said. “[With monkeypox], it’s really going to be you need to be away from other people and not share common things like sheets and towels… the risk of transmission is less so long as you are physically away from other people.”

There’s evidence that monkeypox can spread through breathing, talking, and coughing in close range, but experts disagree on the magnitude of respiratory transmission. Regardless, the CDC recommends wearing a well-fitting face mask, even if you no longer have flu-like symptoms.

If someone is experiencing an emergency or must leave isolation, it’s important to keep all the lesions covered to avoid spreading it to others, Weatherhead said. You can do this with bandages and clothing.

What This Means For You

If you think you’ve been exposed to monkeypox, monitor yourself for flu-like symptoms and skin abnormalities. If you develop lesions, contact a health provider or visit a clinic to request a test.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox: 2022 U.S. map & case count.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox: clinical recognition.

  3. Department of Health and Human Services: Fact sheet: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services response to the monkeypox outbreak.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox: isolation and prevention practices for people with monkeypox.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.