How to Tell the Difference


If you had a chickenpox-like rash before this summer, you are likely to suspect chickenpox and contact your doctor about next steps. But, now this monkeypox is spreading in the United States and cases continue to rise Across the country, it’s understandable to be confused. Can you deal with monkeypox or chickenpox?

It is important to note that both viral infections are somewhat rare in the United States, but of course they do occur. So, how do you tell monkeypox versus chickenpox? Here’s the deal, according to infectious disease experts.

Monkeypox vs. chickenpox

By now, you’re probably familiar at some level about what monkeypox and chickenpox are, but it doesn’t hurt to recap it.

Monkeypox is a viral disease that can spread between people or between people and certain animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC explains that the monkeypox virus, which causes monkeypox, is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox, the virus that causes smallpox. Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox, but tend to be milder, and the virus is rarely fatal. These symptoms in Center for Disease Controlmay include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and back pain
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • goosebumps
  • exhaustion
  • Sore throat
  • nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • The rash may be located on or near the genitals or anus, but it can also be on other areas of the body such as the hands, feet, chest, face or mouth. The rash may be painful or itchy

Worth noting, according to the CDC: Monkeypox is Not related to chickenpox.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Center for Disease Control explains. It can cause an itchy, pimple-like rash that usually appears on the chest, back, and face before spreading all over the body.

Chickenpox was very common in the United States, but since the chickenpox vaccine became available in the United States in 1995, more than 3.5 million cases of the virus have been prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do we get rid of monkeypox from chickenpox

It’s not easy for most people to tell the difference, says Thomas Russo, professor and chair of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York.

“Both are viral infections that cause smallpox-like lesions,” he says. “Rarely in our lives have we had two smallpox diseases spreading at the same time.”

In general, monkeypox and smallpox tend to appear in “very different demographic groups,” says Dr. Russo. (Monkeypox has appeared largely in men who have sex with men; chickenpox is usually more common in children.) However, he notes that “adults can get chickenpox if they are not vaccinated” and there are at least two cases of monkeypox in children.

There are some possible signs of a rash, too, and they are “similar and different,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Dr. Schaffner says that chickenpox, for example, creates a “very thin, fragile blister” that is usually filled with a clear liquid. But monkeypox causes “a deep, hard, or rubbery type of lesion — it’s more firm and stable than a chickenpox lesion,” he explains.

Schaffner says that chickenpox lesions “can easily break, whereas monkeypox lesions do not.” Monkeypox lesions also tend to change over time and may “sag,” which means they form a small gap or crater in the middle, says Dr. Schaffner.

How long are you sick for factors in too. “It will take two to four weeks for monkeypox lesions to fully recover, whereas chickenpox lesions resolve much more quickly,” says Dr. Schaffner. (The Center for Disease Control Note that chickenpox usually lasts about four to seven days.)

What should you do if you develop smallpox-like bumps?

Again, depending on where you live and who you interact with, the risk to the general population at this time from contracting either virus is low. But, if you suspect you might have monkeypox or chickenpox, or you’re not sure what’s going on, Dr. Russo says it’s really best to contact your doctor.

“The safest thing to do is get the checkups,” says Dr. Russo. “There is a test for chickenpox and a test for monkeypox.” You’ll want to call your doctor ahead of time to make sure they already have the tests in the office, just to be safe.

Given that both diseases are contagious, it is recommended Cover your blisters and wear a face mask when you go to your doctor’s office, just to be safe.

Corinne Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual and relationship health, and lifestyle trends, with work emerging in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She earned her master’s degree from American University, lives on the beach, and hopes to own a cup of tea and a taco truck one day.

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