What you need to know about monkeypox

This article was written by London-based GP – Dr Nirja Joshi

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a zoonosis (virus transmitted from animals to humans) which has symptoms which resemble those of smallpox, although clinically less severe (1). 

The virus is normally found near rainforest areas in Central and West Africa, but has now been found in several countries where it is not normally seen. 

Monkeypox has recently been found in the UK, however, the risk of catching Monkeypox is currently low. 

The UK Health Security Agency confirmed that as of 28th July 2022, there were 2,469 confirmed cases of Monkeypox in the UK and 77 highly probable cases (2). 

If you have symptoms of Monkeypox, it is possible to pass this on to other people. This is possible through close physical contact including kissing, sexual contact, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing bedding or towels (3).

What are the symptoms?

If you are infected with Monkeypox, it can take 5 to 21 days for symptoms to appear. Symptoms can be similar to flu, but also are accompanied with a typical rash. Most people will develop a mild to moderate illness, however, some people can become more unwell and require treatment in hospital.

The main symptoms are (2, 3):

  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • shivering
  • swollen glands 
  • joint pain

The rash associated with Monkeypox can be confused with that of Chickenpox, as they are both rashes which start with fluid filled blisters which then begin to scab. With Monkeypox, the rash tends to appear around 1 to 5 days after initial symptoms appear. The rash usually starts on the face, and then spreads elsewhere to the body and can affect the mouth, genitals and anus. This can also cause anal pain, or bleeding. 

Source: UK Health security agency 2022

Who is at risk?

Anyone can contract Monkeypox. There was spread found in GBMSM (gay and bisexual men who have sex with men), due to close contact. As Monkeypox is spread with close contact, and the majority of cases in the UK have been found between interconnected sexual networks, however it can be passed to anyone (4, 5). 

What are the complications of Monkeypox?

Most people’s illnesses are uncomplicated and resolve within a few weeks. Some people may require treatment in hospital, which are more likely to be children, older people or those with weakened immune systems (6). Some people may be treated with antiretroviral drugs (3). 

At the time of writing, there have been no reported deaths from Monkeypox in the UK, however, other countries have reported deaths such as India and Spain (7).

The Monkeypox Vaccine

Data suggested that those with previous vaccination to smallpox, were found to have a milder illness when infected with Monkeypox (4). As there is a limited supply of this vaccine within the UK and hence it is being offered to those most at risk. 

The vaccine is being offered to (4):

  • healthcare professionals who are likely to come into close contact with patients with Monkeypox e.g. sexual health/infectious diseases specialists
  • GBMSM – Gay or Bisexual men who have sex with men
  • those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of Monkeypox (ideally within 4 days of contact)

If you are eligible for a vaccine, individuals are being identified and contacted by the NHS. If you are in one of these groups, do contact 111 or your local sexaul health service to find out more. 

What to do if you have symptoms?

If you have symptoms of Monkeypox, you should isolate and call 111 for advice. They will be able to help you to see a doctor if you need to, however, the most important aspect is to avoid spread.


  1. World Health Organisation. Monkeypox [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/monkeypox
  2. UKHSA. Monkeypox cases confirmed in England – latest updates [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/monkeypox-cases-confirmed-in-england-latest-updates
  3. NHS. Monkeypox [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox/
  4. UKHSA. Monkeypox: waiting for your vaccination [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/monkeypox-vaccination-resources/monkeypox-waiting-for-your-vaccination
  5. World Health Organisation. Monkeypox: public health advice for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/25-05-2022-monkeypox–public-health-advice-for-gay–bisexual-and-other-men-who-have-sex-with-men
  6. UKHSA. Monkeypox: background information [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/monkeypox#:~:text=Spread%20of%20monkeypox%20may%20occur,in%20animals%20in%20the%20UK.
  7. BBC. Monkeypox: Kerala confirms India’s first death and isolates 20 contacts [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-62344928

What you need to know about monkeypox was last modified: August 3rd, 2022 by Nirja Joshi

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