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Health and Wellbeing

Monkeypox: What you need to know

By Adrian 07 Aug 2022

What is monkeypox?

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.

Monkeypox is a viral infection that does not spread easily between people. It is usually a mild self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals.

The infection can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person.

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

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals. The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chickenpox, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

How monkeypox spreads

Person-to-person spread is uncommon, but may occur through:

  • contact with clothing or linens (such as bedding or towels) used by an infected person
  • direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs
  • coughing or sneezing of an individual with a monkeypox rash

An individual is contagious until all the scabs have fallen off and there is intact skin underneath. The scabs may also contain infectious virus material.

Recent UK cases have highlighted the importance of sexual contact in the transmission of monkeypox. Many of the cases have occurred in 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.

What to do if you think you might have monkeypox

Cases in the UK are currently being managed by the network of sexual health clinics.

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.

Find a sexual health clinic

Find a sexual health clinic

Let us know if you need to self-isolate

If you have symptoms of monkeypox, or if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to carry out normal activities, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

Call the Intercollegiate Halls Self-isolation Support Line

+44 (0) 20 8191 0865

If you have been diagnosed with suspected or confirmed monkeypox, be sure to tell the call operator this. It’s possible that you may need to self-isolate for a longer period, so we will activate a special support package to enable this.

You can refer to our step-by-step guide to self-isolating in halls.

Vaccination to protect against monkeypox

The NHS is offering 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

You can check the website of your local sexual health service for more information.

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Adrian is a medical doctor, the Student Health & Wellbeing Manager at the University of London and the Warden of Connaught Hall, where he has lived for more than 25 years.
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