Mpox is caused by the monkeypox virus (family Poxviridae; genus Orthopoxvirus), a double-stranded DNA virus. The virus was first isolated in 1958 following an investigation into a pox-like disease occurring in monkeys. It was first detected in humans in 1970.[5]

The name of the virus is currently under review by the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses.​[3]


  • There are two distinct clades of the virus:[32][33]

    • Clade one (I): formerly known as the Central African (Congo Basin) clade.

    • Clade two (II): formerly known as the West African clade. Consists of subclades IIa and IIb; Clade II is associated with milder disease, fewer deaths, and limited human-to-human transmission compared with Clade I.[5]

  • The group of variants circulating in the 2022 global outbreak belong to Clade IIb. The Clade IIb virus has been characterized with the lineages A.1, A.1.1, A.2, A.2.1, and B.1.[32][34][35] 

    • The majority of cases in the outbreak are in lineage B.1 (or its descendants), which has been estimated to have emerged in March 2022. However, a small number of cases are in lineage A.2. A small amount of diversity has developed within lineage B.1.

    • There is evidence suggestive of sustained human transmission prior to the 2022 global outbreak, but not clear evidence of adaptation for improved human transmission.[35][36][37]

    • Further research is required to determine whether the observed genomic changes lead to phenotypic changes (e.g., enhanced transmissibility, virulence, immune escape, antiviral resistance).

Animal-to-human transmission

  • Zoonotic transmission was the predominant route of transmission, particularly in endemic countries, prior to the 2022 global outbreak.[38]​ 

  • The virus can be transmitted to humans from wild animals, such as monkeys and rodents, although its natural host reservoir is unknown. Animal-to-human transmission can occur from the bite or scratch of an infected animal; during activities such as hunting, trapping, skinning, cooking, or ingestion of infected animals; or from contact with infected bodily fluids. The extent of viral circulation in animal populations is currently unknown.[1] 

  • Human-to-animal transmission (reverse zoonosis) has not been reported, but is a theoretical risk.[39]

Human-to-human transmission

  • Human-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact with infectious skin or mucocutaneous lesions and respiratory droplets (possibly short-range aerosols requiring prolonged close contact). Fomite transmission (e.g., from contaminated clothing or linens) and perinatal transmission are also possible.[1] 

  • Transmission via direct contact with lesions

    • Available evidence suggests that the principal mode of transmission in the 2022 global outbreak has been close contact with skin or mucosal lesions during sexual activity.[40][41]

    • Approximately 74% of patients reported sexual activity in the 21 days prior to diagnosis.[11] However, there have been a small number of cases with no history of sexual exposure.[42][43]​ In women, 25% of infections have not been related to sexual transmission (i.e., household or occupational transmission), a significantly higher proportion compared with men.[21] Household contact is the most common route of transmission in children.​[18][44][45]​​​​​

    • Skin-to-skin contact is likely the dominant mode of transmission, rather than transmission via the respiratory route or contact with body fluids, as viral load is higher in skin and anogenital samples compared with nasopharyngeal, blood, and urine samples.[46][47]​​ 

    • Prior to the 2022 global outbreak, there was little data available about sexual transmission.[11]

  • Transmission via contact with body fluids

    • More information is needed to better understand transmission via contact with bodily fluids.[1] While it is known that close physical contact during sex can lead to transmission, it is not yet clear what role sexual bodily fluids play in transmission, if any.[48][49]​​ 

    • The virus has been detected in semen, blood, feces, urine, and saliva. An analysis of samples found shedding of the virus in a range of bodily fluids during the first 2 weeks of illness and up to 16 days after symptom onset. The viral load in semen was generally low throughout the course of infection.[50][51] Further research on the infectious potential of these bodily fluids and their potential role in disease transmission is required.

    • No confirmed cases of transmission through substances of human origin have been documented.[52]

  • Transmission via respiratory droplets and aerosols

    • More information is needed to better understand transmission via respiratory droplets and aerosols.[1] 

    • Transmission is unlikely during brief interactions (e.g., brief conversations), between people in close proximity for prolonged periods (e.g., passengers seated next to a confirmed case on an airplane), or during healthcare encounters.[53]​ 

    • Airborne transmission is a theoretical concern, but no confirmed cases of airborne transmission have been reported.[35]​ 

  • Transmission via fomites

    • Fomite transmission is infrequent but possible. The risk of infection through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is thought to be low.[40] Fomite transmission may be suspected in cases without any epidemiologic risk factors, but is difficult to confirm.[54]​ 

    • Viral DNA has been detected on objects, surfaces, and air samples (from skin particles in the air during bedding changes) in household and hospital settings of infected cases, with viable virus detected in some studies but not others.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61]​ However, detection of replication-competent virus in samples does not mean that transmission or infection would occur, and further research is required.

  • Peripartum transmission

    • Peripartum transmission has been reported.[62]​ There is insufficient evidence to determine whether transmission can occur via breastfeeding.[63] However, a case has been reported in a breastfeeding infant, most likely via skin-to-skin contact.[64]

Asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission

  • The extent to which asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission may occur is unknown.[48][65]​​​

  • Presymptomatic transmission has been documented.[66] Asymptomatic infection has been described, but the extent to which asymptomatic infection may occur is unknown.[67][68][69]​​​​

  • Small observational studies have identified cases of asymptomatic infection in a small number of men with a positive anorectal polymerase chain reaction test.[70][71][72]​ However, no cases of transmission have been definitively linked to exposure to an asymptomatic case.[40]

Viral transmission factors

  • Incubation period: typically 6 to 13 days (range 5 to 21 days). Transmission was not formerly known to occur in the incubation period.[1] Data from the 2022 global outbreak indicates a mean incubation period of approximately 7 days (range 3 to 20 days).[73]

  • R₀ (number of secondary cases expected to arise from a single primary case in a naive population): historically estimated to be 0.8, based on limited data, meaning a human-to-human epidemic is always likely to die out because transmission is inefficient.[5] However, in the 2022 global outbreak the R₀ has been estimated to be >1 in men who have sex with men (MSM).[74][75]​​

  • Secondary attack rate: historically reported as 0.3% to 10.2% dependent on the virus clade. However, more than half of the studies available reported a secondary attack rate of 0%.[4]​ In the 2013 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the household contact secondary attack rate was 50% among 16 households.[76] Secondary attack rates are likely to be overestimates due to case ascertainment bias during outbreaks.[5] 


Data on pathophysiology are limited.[77] Following viral entry, the virus replicates at the site of inoculation (e.g., skin or respiratory route). The virus can infect epithelial cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages in the respiratory tract, or keratinocytes, fibroblasts, Langerhans cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages in the skin. The virus binds to host cell surface glycosaminoglycans and undergoes endocytosis to enter the cell. Infected cells travel to nearby draining lymph nodes (primary viremia). The virus reaches distant lymph nodes and organs via the circulation. This phase of the infection is asymptomatic. During the prodromal stage, secondary viremia occurs from the lymphoid organs to the skin and other organs (e.g., eyes, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, gonads), and nonspecific symptoms develop from the immune system being triggered. Infection of skin and mucosa leads to appearance of pustules and ulcers.[78][79][80] A detailed discussion of the pathophysiology is beyond the scope of this topic.

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