Overview

Mpox

Mpox is a rare infection that is usually found in west and central Africa. It is now being diagnosed in the UK.

Mpox was previously known as monkeypox. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the change in name in November 2022 after complaints over racist and stigmatising language linked to the virus's name.

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


Symptoms that need medical attention

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

Skin infection (cellulitis)

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

Trapped foreskin (paraphimosis)

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
  • swelling
  • 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


How to treat symptoms at home

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

Read the government advice about isolating at home if you have mpox.

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

Constipation

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.

Swollen genitals

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.

Reminder: Get urgent medical help if the foreskin pulls back but does not go forward again (paraphimosis).

Pain medicine

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

Contact us

If you need more information or advice about mpox, contact your GP or nearest sexual health clinic. You can also go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

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