What is monkeypox and who can get a vaccine?

Find out the signs and symptoms of monkeypox, what to do if you think you have it and who is eligible for a vaccine.
Doctor holds syringe and bottle with vaccine.

A small number of people in the UK have recently been diagnosed with monkeypox. Most of these cases are in London and the risk of getting it is still currently low.

Although anyone can get monkeypox, most cases in the UK have been in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men. If this is you, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox and what to do next.   

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral infection, which is spread by very close contact with an infected person.

Initial symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and back ache
  • Swollen glands
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Joint pain

A rash usually appears one to five days after your first symptoms. This can be on any part of your body, including your face, hands and genitals. You may also have anal pain or bleeding from your bottom.

Usually symptoms are mild enough to not require hospital admission but can last up to four weeks.

What should you do if you think you have monkeypox?

You should call a sexual health clinic if you have a rash with blister, 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 three weeks.
  • Had one or more new sexual partners in the past three weeks.
  • Been to West or Central Africa in the past three weeks.

Before visiting the clinic, you should call them first and tell the person you’re speaking to if you suspect you have monkeypox.

Find a sexual health clinic

You can also call NHS 111 if you’re unable to contact a sexual health clinic.

What should you do if you think your child has monkeypox?

You should call your GP if your 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 three weeks.
  • Been to West or Central Africa in the past three weeks.

Call the surgery before you visit and tell the person you speak to if you suspect your child has monkeypox.

Do you need to self-isolate if you have monkeypox?

While you have symptoms, you can pass monkeypox onto other people. You should stay home and avoid close contact with other people, particularly young children, pregnant women and immunosuppressed people.

Children should also stay at home and avoid close contact with other people.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has produced detailed advice about how to isolate safely at home.

You should self-isolate at home until:

  • You have not had a high temperature for at least 72 hours.
  • You have had no new blister in the past 48 hours.
  • All your lesions have scabbed over.
  • You have no lesions in your mouth.
  • Any blisters on your face, arms and hands have scabbed over, all the scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath.

If you meet all the points above, you may be able to stop self-isolating, but you should seek medical advice first.

You should also continue to avoid close contact with young children, pregnant women and immunosuppressed people until all the scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath.

It is not known whether monkeypox can be transmitted through genital secretions, and so it is recommended to use condoms for 12 weeks after your rash has scabbed over and fallen off.

What should you do if you are a close contact of someone with monkeypox?

If you are a close contact of someone with monkeypox and you have symptoms you should isolate for 21 days. If you test positive you will need to continue to isolate.

If you do not have symptoms you do not need to self-isolate, but you should follow guidance from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA):

  • Contact NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic if you develop a fever or any of the other monkeypox symptoms.
  • Avoid skin to skin contact with others.
  • Refrain from sexual or intimate contact.
  • Avoid international travel if possible.
  • Let any health or care staff know you’re a close contact before you attend any appointments.

Is there a monkeypox vaccine?

Yes. Monkeypox is caused by a similar virus to smallpox. The smallpox (MVA) vaccine should give a good level of protection against monkeypox.

The UKHSA and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is recommending the use of the smallpox vaccine as part of our response to the rise in cases of monkeypox in the UK.

Currently, the NHS is offering smallpox vaccines to people are most likely to be exposed to monkeypox. This includes:

  • Healthcare workers who are caring for and who are due to start caring for a patient with monkeypox.
  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Your clinician will advise vaccination for you if you 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 have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox. You should receive a single dose of the vaccine as soon as possible, ideally within four days of contact, but it can be given up to 14 days after.

If you’re at risk of exposure, your local NHS services will contact you and offer you a vaccine. You can also check the website of your local sexual health service for more information.

Go to GOV.UK to find out more about the vaccine and possible side effects.

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