Monkeypox – a short guide

First we had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and now we hear about more new cases of monkeypox in the UK. Although the transmission risks are low, Public Health England agencies are becoming more alarmed as cases rise

Monkeypox can be caught from infected rodents such as rats, mice and squirrels in parts of West and Central Africa. It is possible to get monkeypox from an infected animal if you come in contact with their blood, scabs, spots, blisters and bodily fluids. It may also be possible to get monkeypox from eating the meat of infected animals that have not been thoroughly cooked, or by even touching the fur and skin of infected animals.

High risk groups include those who are bisexual, gay or have sex with men, so it is particularly important that people are aware of these symptoms if they are in this group.

When are you unlikely to get monkeypox

  • If you have not been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox or previously had monkeypox symptoms
  • If you have not travelled to West or Central Africa

Symptoms of monkeypox

It usually takes between 5 to 21 days for symptoms of monkeypox to appear. The first symptoms of monkeypox include:

  • A high temperature
  • A headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backache
  • Swollen glands
  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion

A rash usually appears between 1 to 5 days after the first symptoms appear. The rash usually starts on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, including genitals.

Sometimes the monkeypox rash is confused with chickenpox. It starts as raised spots, which turn into small blisters with fluid. These blisters eventually form scabs and fall off. Symptoms are usually clear within a few weeks, however when you do have symptoms you can still spread monkeypox to other people.

Treatment of monkeypox

Monkeypox is mild and most people usually recover within a few weeks of getting the disease. If symptoms are however more severe and people become seriously unwell treatment may be needed in hospital.

The risk of needing hospital treatment is greater for older people, younger children and people who have conditions that affect their immune system.

There is a vaccination that works against monkeypox. Monkeypox is a similar virus to smallpox, hence this vaccine should give good protection against smallpox too.

The NHS offers smallpox vaccines to those who have been exposed to the virus. This can include healthcare workers, someone that’s been in close contact with someone who has had monkeypox, or those who are gay/bisexual/have sex with men.

The vaccine is offered to those who have smallpox to reduce the severity of symptoms and help prevent transmission as well as future infections. Some may also be offered a second dose.

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