Mpox is a rare infection that is usually found in west and central Africa. It is now being diagnosed in the UK.
Anyone can contract mpox (previously called monkeypox) but UK data from the current outbreak shows higher levels of transmission between men who have sex with men.
The vaccine is available at our Francis House Vaccination Centre. Find out more about mpox and the vaccine.
How you get mpox
People of any gender or sex can get mpox. It can spread from person to person by:
- touching mpox skin blisters or scabs (including during sex or close sexual intimacy, such as skin-to-skin contact when kissing)
- touching clothes, bedding or towels used by someone with the mpox rash
- close contact with the coughs or sneezes of a person with the mpox virus
Common symptoms of mpox
If you get mpox, the first symptoms usually appear between 5 and 21 days (3 weeks) later.
Symptoms of mpox include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- a headache
- muscle aches
- a backache
- swollen and painful glands (lymph nodes)
- shivering (chills)
- extreme tiredness (exhaustion)
- a rash or spots on your genitals or around your bottom (anus and rectum)
- pain in your bottom, including finding it hard to do a poo
- a sore throat and swollen tonsils (at the back of your throat)
- a skin rash
The rash goes through different stages during the illness. It then forms scabs that fall off. The rash usually lasts about 2 to 4 weeks.
Most mpox symptoms can be treated at home. But if your symptoms are more severe and you become unwell, it is important to get medical help.
If you need to visit a GP, walk-in centre or A&E:
- wear a facemask
- cover up any spots
- tell the staff when you arrive that you might have mpox or a test has shown that you have mpox. The staff can look after you and make sure that you do not give the infection to other people
You might need to get medical help if:
- you have a skin infection where mpox has damaged the skin. This condition is called cellulitis
- your foreskin pulls back, but does not go forward again. This condition is called paraphimosis
Sometimes, bacteria (germs) can cause an infection when the mpox rash or spots damage the skin. This skin infection is called cellulitis.
Cellulitis can be serious if it's not treated quickly with antibiotics. You can get cellulitis anywhere on your body, including your penis or scrotum (the pouch of skin around your testicles).
Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:
- your skin is painful, hot and swollen
- you see redness spreading on your skin
You can also contact your nearest sexual health clinic or go to a walk-in centre.
Call 999 or go to A&E immediately
if you have cellulitis with:
- a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
- a fast heartbeat or fast breathing
- purple patches on your skin, but this may be less obvious on brown or black skin
- dizziness or faintness
- confusion or disorientation
- cold, clammy (damp) or pale skin
- unresponsiveness or loss of consciousness
The foreskin is the thin layer of skin that covers the end of the penis. If the foreskin pulls back but does not go forward, the head of the penis (the glans) can become painful and swollen.
An ice pack might reduce the swelling and allow you to pull the foreskin gently back into position.
If you cannot get the foreskin back into position, you might need emergency medical treatment. This can avoid serious complications, such as:
- more pain
- restricted blood flow to the penis
Go to your nearest A&E if:
- spots on or around the tip of the penis stop you peeing
- the foreskin gets stuck and you cannot get it back into position
This section explains some common symptoms of mpox and how you might be able to treat them yourself.
You can ask the sexual health clinic where you were tested for advice or support if you need it. But sometimes problems happen at night or cannot wait until the clinic is open.
You need to stay at home and isolate when you have mpox to avoid the infection spreading to others. Ask a family member or friend if they can get pain medicine for you at a pharmacy or shop. If that is not possible, you can go yourself but make sure that you:
- avoid contact with others
- wear a face mask
- cover up any spots that can be seen
Spots near or in your bottom
If you have spots near or in your bottom, they can be painful. It is important that you use pain medicine and avoid getting constipated (when you struggle to poo).
Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol). This helps keep your poo soft enough to pass without pain.
It can help to use pain medicine directly on the skin around your bottom to reduce discomfort. The medicine usually contains a local anaesthetic, which helps to make the painful area numb. Useful medicines include:
- Anodesyn (lidocaine and allantoin) ointment or suppositories (a suppository is a small cone or tube that is put into your bottom and melts to release medicine)
- Germoloids® (lidocaine and zinc oxide) cream, ointment or suppositories
If you are constipated and find it hard to poo, you can try using laxatives. They are a type of medicine used to help keep your poo soft. This makes the poo easier and less painful to pass.
You can take laxatives by mouth or as suppositories (medicine put into your bottom).
Laxatives that you take by mouth include:
- docusate sodium (100mg capsules)
- lactulose oral liquid
- macrogol (Movicol®) oral sachets
Glycerine suppositories can also be helpful. You can buy these from a pharmacy or shop.
A sore throat and painful mouth
You can use sprays or a mouthwash that contains painkillers. Examples are:
- benzocaine (Chloraseptic®) spray
- benzydamine (Difflam®) spray or mouthwash
- lidocaine (Xylocaine®) spray
If you cannot control your pain with regular pain medicine or start finding it hard to swallow liquids, contact the sexual health team.
Spots on your genitals
If you have spots from mpox on your penis or scrotum:
- wash your hands before and after peeing or touching your genitals
- wash your genitals every day
- gently pull back your foreskin (if you have one) and wash the area with warm water
- dry the area gently after washing
Do not use perfumed soaps, bubble bath or baby wipes because these products may irritate the area.
If you have swelling (oedema) of the penis, try using an ice pack to help reduce the swelling and pain. Wrap a bag of frozen peas in a cloth, such as a clean tea towel, and put this around the swollen area.
- Do not put ice or an ice pack directly onto the skin.
- Do not wrap anything around the penis or scrotum, including bandages, a tourniquet (a tight bandage or cord used to restrict blood flow) or sticky tape.
Get urgent medical help if the foreskin pulls back but does not go forward again (paraphimosis).
You might have pain from headaches or mouth sores (lesions), or in your bottom. You can try the products mentioned in this information to help with your pain.
You can also take regular painkillers that you buy from a pharmacy or shop, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory medicine). Always follow the instructions on the packet.
Support and more information
Resource number: 5314/VER1
Last reviewed: August 2022
Next review: August 2023