Monkeypox is a rare infection most commonly found in west or central Africa. There has recently been an increase in cases in the UK, but the risk of catching it is low.
How you get monkeypox
Monkeypox can be passed on from person to person through:
- any close physical contact with monkeypox blisters or scabs (including during sexual contact, kissing, cuddling or holding hands)
- touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with monkeypox
- the coughs or sneezes of a person with monkeypox when they're close to you
In parts of west and central Africa, monkeypox can also be caught from infected rodents (such as rats, mice and squirrels) if:
- you're bitten
- you touch its fur, skin, blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs
- you eat its meat and it has not been cooked thoroughly
Monkeypox in the UK
Although more people have been diagnosed with it recently, only a small number of people in the UK have had monkeypox and the risk remains low.
You're extremely unlikely to have monkeypox if:
- you have not been in close contact (such as touching their skin or sharing towels, clothes or bedding) with someone who has monkeypox or has monkeypox symptoms
- you have not recently travelled to west or central Africa
Anyone can get monkeypox. Though currently most cases have been in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, so it's particularly important to be aware of the symptoms if you're in these groups.
Symptoms of monkeypox
If you get infected with monkeypox, it usually takes between 5 and 21 days for the first symptoms to appear.
The first symptoms of monkeypox include:
- a high temperature
- a headache
- muscle aches
- swollen glands
- shivering (chills)
- joint pain
A rash usually appears 1 to 5 days after the first symptoms. The rash often begins on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body. This can include the mouth, genitals and anus.
You may also have anal pain or bleeding from your bottom.
The rash is sometimes confused with chickenpox. It starts as raised spots, which turn into small blisters filled with fluid. These blisters eventually form scabs which later fall off.
The symptoms usually clear up in a few weeks. While you have symptoms, you can pass monkeypox on to other people.
Urgent advice: Call a sexual health clinic if:
You have a rash with blisters, anal pain or bleeding from your bottom and have either:
- been in close contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has or might have monkeypox (even if they've not been tested yet) in the past 3 weeks
- had 1 or more new sexual partners in the past 3 weeks
- been to west or central Africa in the past 3 weeks
Stay at home and avoid close contact with other people, including sharing towels or bedding, until you've been told what to do.
Call the clinic before visiting.
Tell the person you speak to if you've had close contact with someone who has or might have monkeypox, or if you've recently travelled to central or west Africa.
Stay at home and call 111 for advice if you're not able to contact a sexual health clinic.
Non-urgent advice: Call a GP if:
A child has a rash with blisters and has either:
- been in close contact with someone who has or might have monkeypox (even if they've not been tested yet) in the past 3 weeks
- been to west or central Africa in the past 3 weeks
They should stay at home and avoid close contact with other people, including sharing towels or bedding, until you've been told what to do.
Call the GP surgery before visiting.
Tell the person you speak to if the child had close contact with someone who has or might have monkeypox, or if they've recently travelled to central or west Africa.
Stay at home and call 111 for advice if you're not able to contact a GP.
NHS 111 can tell you what to do if you have a rash but:
- you have not been in close contact with someone who has or might have monkeypox
- you have not been to west or central Africa recently
Treatment for monkeypox
Monkeypox is usually mild and most people recover within a few weeks without treatment.
But, if your symptoms are more severe and you become unwell, you may need treatment in hospital.
The risk of needing treatment in hospital is higher for:
- older people
- young children
- people with a condition or who are taking a medicine that affects their immune system
Because the infection can be passed on through close contact, it's important to isolate if you're diagnosed with it.
You may be asked to isolate at home if your symptoms are mild.
Vaccination to protect against monkeypox
Monkeypox is caused by a similar virus to smallpox. The smallpox (MVA) vaccine should give a good level of protection against monkeypox.
The NHS is offering smallpox (MVA) vaccination to people who are most likely to be exposed to monkeypox.
Your local NHS services will contact you and offer you a vaccine if you are at risk of exposure. You may also be offered the vaccine alongside other appointments, for example for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
People who are most likely to be exposed include:
- healthcare workers caring for patients with confirmed or suspected monkeypox
- men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, and who have multiple partners, participate in group sex or attend sex on premises venues (staff who work in these premises may also be eligible)
- people who've been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox – ideally they should have the vaccine within 4 days of contact, but it can be given up to 14 days after
Health care workers will usually be offered 2 doses of the vaccine.
Men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, and close contacts of people with monkeypox will usually be offered 1 dose of the vaccine.
You can check the website of your local sexual health service for more information.
Things you can do to avoid getting and passing on monkeypox
Although monkeypox is rare, there are things you can do to reduce your chance of getting it and passing it on.
wash your hands with soap and water regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
talk to sexual partners about their sexual health and any symptoms they may have
be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox if you are sexually active, especially if you have new sexual partners
take a break from sex and intimate contact if you have symptoms of monkeypox until you get seen by a doctor and told you are no longer at risk of passing it on
do not share bedding or towels with people who may have monkeypox
do not have close contact (within 1 metre) with people who may have monkeypox
do not go near wild or stray animals, including animals that appear unwell or are dead, while travelling in west and central Africa
do not eat or touch meat from wild animals while travelling in west and central Africa
Page last reviewed: 3 August 2022
Next review due: 25 April 2025