Did Monkeypox Actually Come From Monkeys?

Despite the recent spread of monkeypox, the disease has actually been around for decades. Monkeypox originally occurred in Central and West Africa and is a cousin to smallpox, a disease that was eliminated in 1980, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Contracting monkeypox requires close contact with an infected person and is spread via large respiratory droplets and bodily fluids, according to Johns Hopkins University. While it is contagious, it is not as easily transmissible as COVID-19. If someone in a household contracts monkeypox, for example, less than 10% of that household will become infected.

Fortunately, we know a lot about monkeypox, having researched it for decades. Monkeypox has a long incubation period which gives doctors and researchers time to stop the spread if someone becomes infected. Also, vaccines and antiviral treatments — a similar treatment regimen to smallpox — are available and an effective way to treat the disease (via Johns Hopkins University). But where did the name monkeypox come from?

Monkeypox does not come from monkeys

Despite the name "monkeypox," the disease does not come from monkeys. The reason it's called monkeypox is that the virus was first discovered in a monkey in Africa, but the virus is actually hosted by rodents that come from Central and West Africa, according to Johns Hopkins University. Scientists have recently been trying to stop naming diseases after animals (swine flu, monkeypox, and mad cow disease, for example) to avoid offending cultural or regional ethnic groups, according to WHO.

Monkeypox can spread from animals to humans through scratches or bites by an infected animal or by eating meat from an infected animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From there, close, intimate contact with an infected person, such as sex, hugging, kissing, or direct contact with monkeypox scabs spreads the disease. However, scientists still are not sure whether the virus can be spread if someone has no symptoms or if it can be spread through seminal or vaginal fluids (via the CDC).