Mpox (previously referred to as monkeypox)
UKHSA (United Kingdom Health Security Agency) has released a strategy for mpox control from December 2022 to 2023. You can read the full strategy here.
We want to give huge thank you to our communities who since the outbreak, have shared information about symptoms and how to reduce the spread of mpox. This has meant that there has been a steady decline in mpox since July 2022. Mpox hasn't gone away, so it's important to keep the conversation going and look out for one another.
The smallpox vaccine can be used to protect people from the mpox virus.
If you meet the eligibility criteria, you can check here to see where to book your vaccination.
Remember that if you've had one dose, you may need to book an appointment for your second dose after 2-3 months from your first dose.
The UKHSA has announced that 1st doses will end on 17th June 2023 and 2nd Doses on 31st July 2023, so if you're eligible we encourage you to come forward now. If you're trying to book via the links and you're not able to please contact your local sexual health clinic who should be able to advise you. You can email [email protected] for support with this. Although we cannot arrange the vaccines directly we can help you make arrangements.
For more information, you can watch our mpox Q&A Here! - Please note: this video was recorded on August 2nd 2022 and the information may now be out-of-date.
What do we know?
How is mpox passed on?
Anyone can get mpox, it is spread mainly through close contact as a viral infection. It is spreading fastest where multiple people have close contact such as through group sex or through frequent sexual contact. This disease has nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity; spread is a function of close contact with multiple people, being more frequent amongst men who have sex with men.
Mpox is spread through skin-to-skin or very close contact, which means it can be passed on during sex. It can also be passed on by kissing a person with mpox infection; touching their bedding, towels, or clothing; or droplets from their coughs and sneezes.
The UK Health Security Agency is doing ongoing work with the NHS to track new mpox cases and research how new cases are rising, and trace their transmission.
What are the symptoms?
Mpox infection usually starts with fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and fatigue. It can take between 5 days and 21 days after infection for the first symptoms to appear. This is followed a few days later by the appearance of a rash, often starting on the face then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals, anus, hands, and/or in the mouth. It starts as raised spots, which turn into small blisters filled with fluid (lesions), eventually forming scabs which later fall off. Some people have a single lesion and other people have lots of lesions.
A person with mpox is considered contagious from the onset of symptoms until all of the blisters (lesions) have scabbed over, all of the scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath. This can take several weeks.
People diagnosed with mpox in the UK are being asked to isolate. The current guidance is that close contacts, like friends who are living with someone that has mpox infection, no longer need to isolate but to take precautions and to monitor for symptoms.
What should I do if I have symptoms?
It is important that everyone is aware of mpox symptoms. Even if your rash is not mpox, other infections such as herpes and syphilis can cause rashes which need treatment. Rashes are common and most will not be caused by mpox but may still require treatment. It is a good idea to speak to a medical professional if you have any new rash.
If you have a new rash on your body, especially on your face or genitals, or if you have been in contact with somebody who has mpox, call 111 or a sexual health clinic. Don’t attend a clinic in person unless asked to do so. If you think you have mpox, you can wear a face mask to help prevent passing mpox on.
You should also attend a sexual health clinic to check for mpox if you think you have been exposed to close contact, including sexual contact, with someone you think might have been infected in the past three weeks. Additionally, it is advised you seek a test if you have been in West or Central Africa in the past 3 weeks.
Does mpox only affect men who have sex with men?
No. Anybody can get mpox, and everybody should be aware of the symptoms. However, mpox is currently disproportionately affecting men who have sex with men because it is spreading in interconnected sexual networks of gay, bi and men who have sex with men.
We have to respond to the elevated risk for gay and bi men but what is important is providing accurate information that does not shame or stigmatise. This is why much of the information is targeted at gay and bi men and vaccination is only available for those assessed as being most at risk. We ask that these groups of people pay close attention to symptoms, especially if you have recently had a new sexual partner.
Where can I get more information?
We have to respond to the elevated risk for gay and bi men but what is important is providing accurate information that does not shame or stigmatise. This is why much of the information is targeted at Gay and Bi men and vaccination is only available for those assessed as being most at risk.
There is lots of information online, but not all of it is accurate! It's important to stick to trusted sources to make sure you're getting the facts. Some good sources include:
How to stay safe?
Help others avoid mpox (previously referred to as monkeypox) by isolating if you’re asked to do so by a healthcare professional.
Try to get contact details for your sexual partners so you can get in touch later if anybody suspects they’ve got mpox. If you can talk openly with your partners and trust them enough to talk about sexual history and testing, that’s ideal!
Keep it clean by ensuring you thoroughly wash both before and as soon as possible after, ensuring you don’t share towels. Your clothing should be washed after contact with other people, and think about where you’re having sex - can you use a surface that’s easy to wipe down or wash afterwards?
If you’re using saunas or licenced sex clubs you can still reduce your risk by not sharing towels and not using rooms or equipment directly after somebody else. LGBT Foundation and colleagues from Manchester council and UKHSA have been working with staff in these venues to make sure they understand how to keep staff and customers safer, for example by cleaning more frequently and continuing to provide clean towels for each customer.
Don’t share your toys - sharing sex toys increases the risks of passing on the virus and STIs, but may be safer than having sex. If you do use sex toys, ensure they are thoroughly cleaned before and after use, and consider covering them with a condom.
Stay informed and stick to trusted information to understand what you should be watching out for. Not everyone with mpox has the same symptoms - some people might not have a rash but still be able to pass on the infection. If you’re feeling unwell in general or have a fever, wait until you’re feeling better.
Safer Sex is key! Using condoms and lube is as important as ever in protecting you and your partner(s). We’re providing free postal condoms and lube to Greater Manchester residents, which you can order here. If you've recovered from mpox, keep using condoms for 12 weeks. It is currently unclear how long the virus stays in semen and genital fluids, so it's better to be safe than risk passing it on!
The fewer people, the better - while mpox is out there, you may choose to limit the number of people you have sexual contact with and the number of times you have sex. The more time you leave between sexual or non-sexual physical contact with other people, the less likely you are to pass on infections to others.
Be kind and remember that if you see somebody with spots or sores on their skin, it’s not necessarily mpox. Lots of other skin conditions can look similar, and may not be infectious. If you suspect somebody else has symptoms and you talk to them about it, be respectful and don’t make judgements.
As always, if you want to talk to someone about the type of sex you’re having, or the sex that you want to have, you can contact our sexual health team for non-judgemental sex positive discussions at [email protected]. If you prefer to have this discussion over the phone, send us your number and we will arrange to call you back.
The most up-to-date information and advice on mpox can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/monkeypox