Monkeypox - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This information is intended for the general public and does not replace medical advice. This outbreak presents differently from previous outbreaks. Therefore, these recommendations may be updated as more information becomes available. We always try to keep the information up to date. However, it is possible that the information may age rapidly despite our care in updating the content of this page. If you discover an error, please let us know. We will check it and correct it as soon as possible.

What is monkeypox?
Where does monkeypox occur?
How many cases are there in Belgium?
What are the symptoms?
How do you get monkeypox?
How is the diagnosis made?
What should you do if you have monkeypox?
What preventive measures can you take?
Can you be cured of monkeypox?
Is there any treatment?
Is there a vaccine?
Are you protected if you were vaccinated against smallpox?
What should you do if you think you have monkeypox?
How should swabs be sent to a laboratory where a PCR test can be done?
Where can you find more information about monkey pox?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox (monkeypoxvirus, genus orthopoxvirus) is a variant of the virus that caused the "normal" smallpox and was first discovered in 1958. This disease was first discovered in laboratory monkeys, hence the name. However, it is not certain that monkeys are the main reservoir (carrier) of the virus. According to the latest findings, it is more likely to be African rodents.

Where does monkeypox occur?

Most cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in forested areas in Central and West Africa, namely in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. Sporadically, there are also cases in European countries and the United States of America, always linked to travel or import of animals from African countries. However, since May 2022, we have seen different cases in European countries, without these known links.

How many cases are there in Belgium?

Check the current epidemiological situation:

What are the symptoms?

Often, 5 to 21 days after infection, a flu-like syndrome (fever, muscle aches, headaches, general unwellness) develops. This is followed by skin lesions. These skin lesions can be (red) spots, pimples, blisters or suppurative bumps, which finally heal after the formation of scabs. These skin lesions can be spread all over the body, including on the face and the palms of the hands. They can also occur in a limited area, for example around the anus or on the penis, without a fever.

How do you get monkeypox?

You can get monkeypox through:

  • contact with body fluids, such as wound fluids,
  • contact with mucous membranes and saliva droplets,
  • contaminated surfaces or linen (such as bedding or towels).

In the current outbreak in Europe, for the time being, mainly men who have sex with men (MSM) are infected.

How is the diagnosis made?

The diagnosis is made on the basis of the symptoms and is then confirmed by a swab of the skin lesions. However, this swab must be taken under safe conditions in order to avoid contamination by sampling. The presence of the virus is then determined by a PCR test.

What should you do if you have monkeypox?

To prevent further contamination of other people, you should go into isolation at home until all lesions have completely dried out.

You should inform the people with whom you have had close contact in the last three weeks so that they can monitor themselves for fever and skin symptoms and report back if symptoms occur.

What preventive measures can you take?

Avoid contact with people who have the disease (or who are suspected of having the disease based on their symptoms) until they are allowed out of isolation.

There is currently no approved medication to protect you from exposure.

Can you be cured of monkeypox?

Usually, the disease heals spontaneously and without residual lesions after a few weeks. To date, no deaths have been reported in Europe. There were also no deaths in an outbreak in 37 adults in 2003 in the United States.

Is there any treatment?

There is no approved treatment. Targeted antiviral drugs are currently used in scientific research only. In case of complaints, the symptoms are treated with supportive treatment such as painkillers, antipyretics, anti-itch medicines, etc.

Is there a vaccine?

There is a vaccine against smallpox that also protects against monkeypox. It can protect against disease even after exposure, but is itself often associated with local and general side effects. The strategy for the possible use of vaccines is still under review by the relevant authorities. A vaccine against chicken pox (windpox) or zona does not protect against monkeypox.

Are you protected if you were vaccinated against smallpox?

Routine vaccination against smallpox was discontinued in the 1970s. Infections are less frequent in people who have been vaccinated against smallpox. The protection provided by the vaccine decreases with age. Therefore, it is still possible to get infected. Preventive measures remain applicable.

What should you do if you think you have monkeypox?

To prevent further contamination of other people, you should go into isolation at home until all lesions have completely dried out.
You should notify those with whom you have had close contact in the last three weeks so that they can monitor themselves for fever and skin symptoms and report back if symptoms occur.

Contact us on 03 247 66 66 from 9 am to 5 pm if you:

  • develop unexplained skin lesions with vesicles or skin lesions around the anus and you either:
    • are a man who had intimate contact with one or more other men in the last few weeks,
    • Have been to West or Central Africa in the last few weeks.
  • have had close contact with someone with monkeypox in the last three weeks and you either:
    • develop a fever,
    • develop skin lesions.

If you live do not live in Antwerp, you can contact the emergency department of a hospital with a local infectious disease specialist (travel clinics/ yellow fever vaccination centers). Always contact the health care providers before your visit. This allows the healthcare staff to prepare themselves. You can always contact your doctor by phone if you are in doubt, but before going for a consultation, let your doctor know that you suspect to be infected with the monkey pox virus.

How should swabs be sent to a laboratory where a PCR test can be done?

Swabs of skin lesions (eSwab) for PCR monkeypox virus can be sent to ITM.

Monkeypoxvirus is a BSL-3 pathogen. Therefore, the samples must be sent under UN2814 in a triple package by a courier who holds an ADR license.

The shipment of a sample for PCR-monkeypoxvirus has to be announced by phone to our clinical biologist on the number 03 345 56 52.