What is monkeypox (mpox)?

Monkeypox, now called mpox, is a rare infection caused by a virus. Although it causes a rash and can be spread through close personal contact, it’s not an STI.

It’s usually a mild infection that gets better within a few weeks. You might need to self-isolate if you have the infection, to stop it from spreading to other people.

Right now in the UK, more people are testing positive for mpox than usual. And even though anyone can get mpox, most of these people are men who have sex with men. It’s thought that in these cases, the virus is being spread during sexual contact. This is unusual for the mpox virus.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recommends that everyone stays alert to signs of infection, particularly men who have sex with men.

Symptoms of mpox

The symptoms include:

  • a high temperature

  • swollen lymph nodes - new lumps that appear on your neck, groin or under your arms

  • a spotty rash that’s similar to a chickenpox rash

If you have any of these signs, contact your GP or local sexual health clinic. Make sure to contact your surgery or clinic before you visit. They will be able to help you with testing and treatment.

The STI tests that we offer do not work for diagnosing mpox. 

How is mpox spread?

Mpox does not easily spread between people. But it can be passed on through close contact with a person who has the infection. This means:

  • touching them, in particular, touching their rash

  • touching their clothes, bedding or towels

  • being near their coughs and sneezes

If you are worried that you might have been in contact with the mpox virus, contact your doctors or your local sexual health clinic.

You can reduce the chance of you catching or passing on mpox by:

  • getting the vaccination if you’re eligible

  • talking to sexual partners about their sexual health and any symptoms

  • taking a break from sex and sexual contact if you have symptoms

  • washing your hands regularly with soap and water or using hand sanitiser

Vaccination

Mpox is caused by a virus similar to the smallpox virus. The smallpox vaccine gives a good level of protection from mpox, so the NHS is offering this vaccine to some groups.

These groups are considered more likely to come into contact with the mpox virus.

They include:

  • some healthcare workers

  • some men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men

  • people who have been in close contact with someone who has the infection

If you’re in one of these groups, you may be contacted and offered the vaccine.

At the moment, the UK does not have a large amount of the vaccine so it's being offered to those at the highest risk first. As more vaccine becomes available, it will be offered to more people.

Read more about the vaccine on GOV.UK

For more information on mpox, go to:


Reviewed by Dr Paula Baraitser. Medical Director
Last updated at: 30 November 2022