We encourage the UMass Lowell community to familiarize themselves with the basic facts about mpox and to take steps to prevent its spread by visiting reliable sources like the Massachusetts Department of Public Health mpox website or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Mpox website for the most up to date and accurate information about this health issue.
What is mpox?
Mpox is a rare disease caused by infection with the mpox virus and rarely fatal. The mpox virus is part of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, but causes milder symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms and a rash. Sometimes the rash can be quite painful.
Mpox is not a sexually transmitted disease as it can be transmitted by any direct physical contact between someone’s rash, scabs, bodily fluids and another person. This does include sexual activity and any touching of the lesions/rash between people, or even touching clothing or bedding that an infected person used. In the recent mpox outbreak since 2022, many of the cases have been in individuals who contracted it due to close physical contact during sexual activity.
How is mpox spread?
Mpox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. This can take up to several weeks.
Mpox is spread through:
- direct contact with an infectious rash, scabs or body fluids;
- respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing (if there are oral lesions), cuddling or sex;
- touching objects, fabrics (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the rash or body fluids of someone with mpox lesions; and
- being scratched or bitten by an infected animal.
Mpox can be acquired by all people, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Signs and Symptoms
Mpox often starts with flulike symptoms or sometimes with a rash only. The rash can have many lesions scattered over the body, but sometimes a person might only have a few lesions.
Symptoms of mpox can include:
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus.
The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.
What to do if you think you have mpox?
Seek medical care (if you are a UMass Lowell student call the Wellness Center during regular business hours at 978-934-6800) and avoid close physical contact and gatherings, including sex with others, until you find out what is causing your symptoms.
Wear a mask and cover your rash when you need to go out for medical appointments.
Talk to your partners about any recent illnesses or rashes they might have.
If you have a rash and think you might be at risk for mpox due to an exposure or high-risk activities call Health Services at 978-934-6800 or your primary care provider to be evaluated. Make sure to wear a mask and to cover any lesions you have with clothing before traveling to any medical appointment.
If mpox is suspected, UML Health Services can conduct mpox testing with results available within a few days. If after seeing your provider there is concern you have mpox you will be instructed to isolate until you get results.
What to do if you test positive for mpox?
People with mpox should follow these recommendations until cleared by state or local public health officials:
- Stay home except to receive medical care.
- Avoid close contact with others including friends, family or others while you still have lesions.
- Cover all your lesions and wear a mask when if you need to have close contact with others.
- Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and items, such as counters or light switches, using an EPA-registered disinfectant in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Do not engage in sexual activity that involves direct physical contact. Review the CDC's guidance on mpox and safer sex.
- Do not share clothing, bedding, towels, utensils, etc.
- Wash bedding often and prevent the rash from touching upholstered surfaces on furniture.
- Avoid close contact with any pets (to the extent possible).
- Try to avoid public transportation.
- Avoid use of contact lenses to prevent inadvertent infection of the eye.
- Avoid shaving rash-covered areas of the body as this can lead to spread of the virus.
How can you reduce your risk and prevent spread?
- Avoid close contact (including sexual contact) with people who are sick or have a rash.
- Decrease the number of sex and intimate contact partners.
- Avoid gatherings where people wear minimal clothing and have the potential for direct, intimate, skin-to-skin contact.
- Don’t share clothing or linens (Remember Residential students now have access to free laundry!).
- Be mindful of activities (e.g., kissing, sharing drinks and eating utensils) that might increase the risk for spreading mpox whenever you gather with others.
Is there a mpox vaccine?
When properly administered before or soon after a recent exposure, an mpox vaccine can be an effective tool to protect people against mpox illness, and can make the symptoms less severe if the illness occurs. Massachusetts DPH has more information, including an mpox vaccination site finder, on the MPH website.