Monkeypox is a rare infection that's mainly found in parts of west or central Africa. There have been some recent cases in the UK, but the risk of catching it is low.
How you get monkeypox
Monkeypox can be caught from infected rodents (such as rats, mice and squirrels) in parts of west and central Africa.
You can catch monkeypox from an infected animal if you're bitten or you touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs.
It may also be possible to catch monkeypox by eating meat from an infected animal from central or west Africa that has not been cooked thoroughly, or by touching other products from infected animals (such as animal skin or fur).
Monkeypox can also spread from person to person through:
- touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash
- touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs (including during sex)
- the coughs or sneezes of a person with the monkeypox rash
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 bedding) with someone who has monkeypox or has monkeypox symptoms
- you have not recently travelled to west or central Africa
Anyone can get monkeypox. Currently most cases have been in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men, so it's particularly important to be aware of the symptoms if you're in these groups.
Urgent advice: Contact a sexual health clinic if:
You have a rash with blisters and either:
- you've 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
- you've been to west or central Africa in the past 3 weeks
Contact 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 avoid close contact with other people until you've been told what to do.
Stay at home and call 111 for advice if you're not able to contact a sexual health clinic.
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
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)
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 genitals.
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.
Treatment for monkeypox
Monkeypox is usually mild and most people recover within a few weeks without treatment.
But as the infection can spread 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.
If your symptoms are severe or you're at higher risk of getting seriously ill (for example, if you have a weakened immune system), you may need to stay in a specialist hospital until you recover.
You may be offered a vaccination to reduce the risk of getting seriously ill.
Things you can do to avoid getting monkeypox while travelling
Although monkeypox is rare, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting it while travelling in west and central Africa.
wash your hands with soap and water regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
only eat meat that has been cooked thoroughly
do not go near wild or stray animals, including dead animals
do not go near any animals that appear unwell
do not eat or touch meat from wild animals (bush meat)
do not share bedding or towels with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox
do not have close contact with people who are unwell and may have monkeypox
Vaccination to protect against monkeypox
The NHS will be offering smallpox (MVA) vaccination to people who are most likely to be exposed to monkeypox.
- some healthcare workers
- some men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men
- people who have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox
Monkeypox is caused by a similar virus to smallpox. The smallpox (MVA) vaccine should give a good level of protection against monkeypox.
1 dose of the smallpox (MVA) vaccine will be offered to help reduce the severity of monkeypox symptoms and prevent future infections. If you continue to be exposed, you may be offered a 2nd dose.
If you're at risk of exposure, your local NHS services will contact you and offer you a vaccine. You should wait to be contacted.
Page last reviewed: 23 June 2022
Next review due: 25 April 2025