Monkeypox – What is it and what symptoms should I look out for?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


If you’ve been watching the news and reading the newspapers, you’ll know that cases of a rare disease from Africa called monkeypox has been detected in the UK.

The risk of catching monkeypox is low, but if you’re worried here are a few facts about the disease so you know more about it.

Monkeypox was discovered in 1958 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and most cases have been reported in central and western Africa. It is still prevalent in the DRC and Nigeria.

It has spread to different parts of the world because infected people have travelled between Africa and other countries before knowing they had monkeypox.

The World Health Organisation is concerned about its spread because it is related to smallpox.

Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide and most people over the age of 40 have been vaccinated against this disease. It’s relevant because the smallpox vaccination is said to protect you against monkeypox.

However, younger people under the age of 40 haven’t received a smallpox vaccination and therefore won’t have the same protection against the disease.

Monkeypox – How is it spread?

Monkeypox is carried by infected rodents like mice, squirrels, and rats. It can be passed on to a human if you touch an infected rodent’s blood, bodily fluids or any blisters or scabs they have on their bodies. You can also catch monkeypox if a rodent bites you.

Other ways of catching monkeypox are by eating the meat of an infected animal from central or west Africa that has not been cooked properly. Animal skins or furs can also carry the infection.

Someone with monkeypox can pass it on to another person through:

  • Having sex with an infected person
  • touching their scabs or blisters
  • being close to someone who is coughing and sneezing
  • being in contact with bedding, towels, or clothes from an infected person

Monkeypox – What symptoms should I look out for?

Symptoms of monkeypox will appear between 5 and 21 days after you have caught the infection. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • A high temperature
  • Backache
  • Chills (shivering)
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Swollen glands (more common in monkeypox than chickenpox)

The initial symptoms will last between 0 and 5 days. After that, between 1 and 3 days later your skin will begin to show the signs of a rash.

The rash normally appears on the face, soles of the feet and palms of the hand. But you can get a rash in almost any part of your body including your genitals and your eyes and nose.

The blisters may look like chickenpox, which has similar symptoms. Like chickenpox your skin blisters and scabs over. The scabs then fall off as you are in recovery.

Bear in mind that you are more likely to suffer from chickenpox than monkeypox. The symptoms are generic, so displaying these does not necessarily mean you have developed monkeypox.

What type of treatment will I need?

Monkeypox doesn’t usually require treatment unless you already have a weakened immune system. Most people can stay at home until the scabs have fallen away. This means you are no longer contagious. You should fully recover within a few weeks.

If you have had a smallpox vaccination you may find that Monkeypox symptoms are milder than normal. The smallpox vaccination is said to be 85% effective in preventing Monkeypox.

What if I am visiting an African country?

If you are visiting central or West African regions take care to only eat meat that has been cooked thoroughly. Also remember to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean them with a hand sanitiser.

During your visit keep away from animals that are stray or wild and don’t touch dead animals. Try not to eat bush meat.

If you know someone who has monkeypox keep your distance and don’t share clothing, towels, or bedding.

If you become ill with monkeypox symptoms and you have a rash phone your doctor’s surgery for advice before you have any contact with other people. You will likely be advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and treat pain with an over-the-counter medication like paracetamol.

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