Coping With Monkeypox

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It can be distressing to be diagnosed with monkeypox, an infectious viral disease closely related to smallpox. While most people fully recover within two to four weeks, the process can be taxing physically and emotionally.

Monkeypox infections can also be painful, causing unsightly crusting rashes and intense flu-like symptoms. Although less common, complications like diarrhea, vomiting, and eye infections also can occur.

Person coping with monkeypox on face

Tetiana Strilchuk / Getty Images

Adding to the burden is the emotional stress that monkeypox can inflict. This can develop due to the stigma that some people feel when diagnosed with a disease that can be passed through sexual contact. Others struggle with having to isolate themselves during recovery to prevent the further transmission of infection.

In some cases, the emotional toll can be just as strong—if not stronger—than the physical toll.

This article offers tips and tools to help you better cope with monkeypox, addressing not only your physical and practical needs but also your social and emotional ones.

Emotional

Getting any communicable disease can be distressing, particularly ones that people are not familiar with. It raises questions not only about how the disease is spread but how you got it and what risk you pose as an individual.

The 2022 outbreak of monkeypox in the United States and Europe was a key example of this. Unlike past outbreaks of monkeypox in West Africa and Central Africa, this outbreak predominantly affected men who have sex with men (MSM) who passed the virus through sex.

Despite efforts to avoid stigmatization of the virus, fear-based messaging in the media fueled speculation among some that monkeypox was a "gay disease" or a sexually transmitted infection (STI)—even though sex is only one possible mode of transmission.

Impact of Stigma

Research has shown that stigmatization of outbreaks like monkeypox stokes feelings of distress, fear, anxiety, and depression, potentially driving people from treatment and prevention services. This, in turn, fuels the spread of infection in already hard-hit communities.

The feelings of distress may be amplified if you need to disclose your status to someone you've been in intimate contact with or to whom you want to avoid transmitting the virus.

There are several things you can do to better overcome the emotional impact of having monkeypox, including:

  • Remember that anyone can get monkeypox: While the 2022 outbreak was mainly fueled by the sexual transmission of the virus, monkeypox can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact with a lesion, contact with contaminated objects, or contact with respiratory secretions. Children can get it as well as adults.
  • Educate yourself with reliable sources: This can help you better understand how to care for yourself and others, and it may also help you disclose your status if you can share facts and dispel myths about the virus.
  • Work with your healthcare provider: If diagnosed with monkeypox, let your healthcare provider know what you feel emotionally and physically. They can refer you to a counselor or therapist if needed. They can also help explain monkeypox to your partner and offer them the monkeypox vaccine as a preventive measure.
  • Avoid internal stigmatization: This is about your negative thoughts and attitudes based on your own feelings of shame or expectations of discrimination. The bottom line is to not let these feelings stand in your way of getting tested if you think you have monkeypox or getting vaccinated if you are at risk of exposure.

Physical

The symptoms of monkeypox vary from one person to the next. Some people develop flu-like symptoms before the appearance of a rash, while others develop the rash and then flu-like symptoms. Still others only get the rash.

There are no licensed treatments for monkeypox. Treatment instead is based on managing symptoms and avoiding complications like eye infections and secondary bacterial infections.

Here is a list of dos and don'ts to help you better manage monkeypox symptoms:

Social

Support is needed whenever faced with a distressing illness. With monkeypox, this can be challenging given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends isolation for the duration of the illness. In practical terms, this means separating yourself from others until your symptoms are fully resolved, usually between two and four weeks.

Risks of Isolation

Isolation should not be approached as "solitary confinement." Without proper social support and interaction, isolation can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, trouble sleeping, a loss of concentration, emotional outbursts, and the worsening of existing medical conditions.

It is important to reach out to family, friends, and colleagues who can provide you with the emotional and practical support you need. This may involve chatting with you or picking up medications or groceries for you. Depending on the stage of the infection, the contact may be limited to phone calls, text, or video conferencing, particularly in the early stages.

Your healthcare team can also provide support, either by telephone or via telehealth. If your healthcare provider is unavailable and you need information, advice, or a referral, call your state or local health department, many of which have set up dedicated monkeypox hotlines with trained operators.

Many community-based LGBTQ centers have also done the same. They offer culturally sensitive health and prevention information to community members and referrals to medical, mental health, or vaccine providers in your area.

Because monkeypox is a relatively new disease and infections are usually short-lived, there are few support group options. In response, some people have taken to queer party group chats on Twitter, Grindr, and others to disseminate information and offer support in hard-hit MSM communities.

Practical

If you get monkeypox, it is important to isolate yourself. What this means varies by the stage and scope of your symptoms.

According to the CDC:

  • If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms, remain isolated at home and stay away from others unless it is necessary to see a healthcare provider or for an emergency.
  • If you have a rash but no fever or respiratory symptoms, avoid close contact with others (including pets), wear a tight-fitting face mask, and cover all rashes with gloves, clothing, or bandages.
  • Until all symptoms are fully resolved, avoid crowds and close physical contact with others. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Do not share cups or utensils, and launder or disinfect any item that has come into contact with lesions.

Coping With Isolation

Arguably, the larger issue is coping with the stress (and boredom) of recovering in isolation. There are a few things that can help you cope if you need to isolate yourself, including:

  • Remind yourself that isolation is temporary.
  • See if you can work at home if you are unable or unwilling to take leave.
  • Maintain daily routines, including preparing and eating meals and getting up and going to bed at the same time every day.
  • Schedule regular chats and video conferences with others to ensure social interactions.
  • Find ways to exercise even if you've never done so before. YouTube videos are a great resource.
  • Explore new hobbies rather than sitting in front of the TV or playing video games all day.
  • Accept your feelings. It is better to share them with others than to try to numb them with alcohol or drugs.
  • If you cannot cope, do not hesitate to ask a healthcare provider for a referral to a therapist or counselor who can help.

Summary

Getting monkeypox can be distressing, impacting both your physical health and emotional well-being. By learning more about the disease, including how it is treated and prevented, you can take steps to minimize symptoms, avoid the spread of infection, and overcome feelings of fear and stigma.

The CDC advises anyone with monkeypox to isolate themselves until the symptoms are fully resolved, usually within two to four weeks. With preparation and acceptance, you'll be better able to cope while in isolation and protect others from this contagious viral disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long is monkeypox contagious?

    Monkeypox is contagious until the rash is fully healed and you have no other symptoms. This means that the scabs have to fall off—do not pick!—and the skin underneath has healed. This usually takes two to four weeks.

  • What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

    Monkeypox causes an outbreak of painful or itchy rashes that start as tiny pimples and progress to pus-filled blisters that burst and scab over. Other symptoms include:

    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle aches
    • Backache
    • Headaches
    • Sore throat
    • Cough
    • Nasal congestion


  • How is monkeypox treated?

    There are no licensed treatments for monkeypox. The treatment is instead focused on managing symptoms and preventing complications. With that said, because monkeypox is similar to smallpox, people with severe symptoms or at risk of complications may benefit from TPOXX (tecovirimat), an investigation drug approved for the treatment of smallpox.

14 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.
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  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox: clinical recognition.

  11. Sukumaren V, Senanayake S. Bacterial skin and soft tissue infections. Aust Prescr. 2016;39(5):159–163. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2016.058

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Isolation and prevention practices for people with monkeypox.

  13. BuzzFeed News. LGBTQ people rallied In New York for better information and support as monkeypox cases rise.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patient's guide to monkeypox treatment with TPOXX.

By James Myhre & Dennis Sifris, MD
Dennis Sifris, MD, is an HIV specialist and Medical Director of LifeSense Disease Management. James Myhre is an American journalist and HIV educator.