Mpox (previously known as 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 mpox
Mpox can be passed on from person to person through:
- any close physical contact with mpox blisters or scabs (including during sexual contact, kissing, cuddling or holding hands)
- touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with mpox
- the coughs or sneezes of a person with mpox when they're close to you
In parts of west and central Africa, mpox can also be caught from infected rodents (such as rats, mice and squirrels) if:
- you're bitten
- you touch their fur, skin, blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs
- you eat their meat and it has not been cooked thoroughly
Mpox in the UK
Although more people have been diagnosed with it recently, only a small number of people in the UK have had mpox and the risk remains low.
You're extremely unlikely to have mpox if:
- you have not been in close contact (such as touching their skin or sharing towels, clothes or bedding) with someone who has mpox or has mpox symptoms
- you have not recently travelled to west or central Africa
Anyone can get mpox.
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 mpox
If you get infected with mpox, it usually takes between 5 and 21 days for the first symptoms to appear.
The first symptoms of mpox 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 mpox 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 mpox (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 mpox, 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 mpox (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 mpox, 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 mpox
- you have not been to west or central Africa recently
Treatment for mpox
Mpox 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 mpox
Mpox is caused by a similar virus to smallpox. The smallpox (MVA) vaccine should give a good level of protection against mpox.
Who can get mpox vaccination
The NHS is offering the smallpox (MVA) vaccine to people who are most likely to be exposed to mpox.
People who are most likely to be exposed include:
- healthcare workers caring for patients with confirmed or suspected mpox
- 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 at these venues are also eligible)
- people who've been in close contact with someone who has mpox – ideally, they should have 1 dose of the vaccine within 4 days of contact, but it can be given up to 14 days after
Healthcare workers will usually be offered 2 doses of the vaccine.
Men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men will be offered 2 doses of the vaccine. The 2nd dose will be offered from 2 to 3 months after the 1st dose.
Your local NHS services will contact you when you can get your 2nd dose.
Important: Changes to mpox vaccination
The NHS mpox outbreak vaccination programme ended in July 2023. But it is still available in London and Greater Manchester to eligible people who:
- live in London or Greater Manchester
- regularly travel to London or Greater Manchester to have sex
- regularly travel to other countries to have sex
How to get mpox vaccination
Your local NHS services may contact you and offer you a vaccine if you're at risk of exposure.
You may also be offered the vaccine alongside other appointments, such as for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
If you're gay, bisexual or a man who has sex with other men, you can also get the smallpox vaccine from a vaccination site.
If none of the mpox vaccination sites are open or suitable for you, contact a sexual health clinic.
Things you can do to avoid getting and passing on mpox
Although mpox 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 mpox if you're sexually active, especially if you have new sexual partners
take a break from sex and intimate contact if you have symptoms of mpox until you're seen by a doctor and are told you cannot pass it on
do not share bedding or towels with people who may have mpox
do not have close contact (within 1 metre) with people who may have mpox
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: 20 October 2022
Next review due: 25 April 2025