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Monkeypox

Introduction

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that causes a high temperature (fever) and a body rash lasting a few weeks. It mainly occurs in remote parts of central and west Africa.

Recommendations for Travellers

Monkeypox is very rare in travellers to Africa. Prior to 2022 it mainly occurred in remote parts of central and west Africa when a person had contact with animals infected with monkeypox. Occasionally the infection then spread to someone else in the person’s house.

Recently, there has been an increase in monkeypox cases in the UK, Europe and other international countries. Anyone can get monkeypox, but most cases have been in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men, so it's important to be aware of the symptoms if you're in these groups.

Generally, there is a low risk of becoming infected with monkeypox during travel. The risk is greater if you have close contact, including during sex, with a person who has the infection and who has symptoms.

If you are travelling to central or west Africa you should:

  • avoid contact with monkeys and rodents (for example rats, mice, squirrels) and avoid eating undercooked meat from these animals
  • wear protective clothing, including gloves, if you are involved in the slaughter of, or care of animals
  • practice careful hand hygiene if visiting or caring for ill friends and relatives

If you plan to be sexually active during travel to any destination, you should:

  • practise safe sex
  • avoid close, including sexual contact, with someone who is unwell and may have monkeypox

You should seek medical advice during, and for 21 days after travelling if you develop symptoms of monkeypox and:

  • you have returned from west or central Africa
    • you should also ensure you are checked for malaria

or

  • you have had close contact with someone who may have monkeypox

For further information see:

There is no vaccine specifically to protect against monkeypox, but vaccines designed for smallpox offer some protection.

  • for more information about the vaccine, see NHS inform  

Overview of the Disease

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus. It does not spread readily between people.

Some animals in Africa, including rodents (rats, mice and squirrels) can carry the infection.

Infection can be caught from:

  • infected animals in west and central Africa
    • close contact with infected animals including touching them or eating their undercooked meat increases your risk

or

  • close contact with a person with monkeypox from their:
    • rash (having skin contact, including during sex)
    • clothes, bedding, towels or personal items
    • coughs or sneezes

The Illness

After becoming infected, symptoms usually start 5 to 21 days later and usually get better by themselves over a few weeks.

First symptoms include:

  • high temperature (fever)
  • headache
  • flu-like symptoms, including muscle and back aches, shivering and tiredness
  • swollen glands (that feel like new lumps) in the neck, armpits or groin

A blistering rash starts 1 to 5 days after the other symptoms. It may start on the face or in the genital areas and may spread to the rest of the body.

The rash changes from raised spots to blisters and then scabs, similar to a chickenpox rash.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for monkeypox and it usually gets better by itself. Medicines that help pain, fever and discomfort from the rash can be taken.

People with monkeypox should isolate, and avoid close contact with others to ensure they can’t pass on the infection.

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