Updated 07 June 2022

An outbreak of Monkeypox, a serious infectious disease has been detected in the UK, US and mainland Europe, with many initial cases coming from gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. So far there's been several hundred cases detected worldwide. Here's what you need to know.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox cases are usually found in West Africa, and the virus does not often spread elsewhere.

That is why outbreaks reported in Britain, United States and mainland Europe have cased alarm among public health experts.

The disease, which was first discovered in monkeys. It can cause severe illness in some cases.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of monkeypox include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • backache
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • chills and exhaustion.

A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, which then spreads to other parts of the body including the genitals.

The rash can look like chickenpox or syphilis, and scabs can form which then fall off.

The monkeypox virus usually causes mild illness but the outbreak is causing concern in government due to the spread in some European countries.

In recent cases, most patients have self-identified as gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (MSM).

The UK Health Security Agency and the CDC in the US is advising gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men to check for any usual rashes or lesions on their bodies, particularly their genitals, and to contact a sexual health service if they are concerned.

Monkeypox can be passed on by direct contact though sex, but is not considered to be a sexually transmitted infection.

It can also be spread through touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash, and through the coughs and sneezes of somebody with the infection.

Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, said: "We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay if they have concerns."

Inger Damon, MD, PhD, Director of CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said: “Many of these global reports of monkeypox cases are occurring within sexual networks.  However, healthcare providers should be alert to any rash that has features typical of monkeypox. We’re asking the public to contact their healthcare provider if they have a new rash and are concerned about monkeypox".

What has happened in the UK?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that, based on currently available information, some people are catching the infection in the UK.

Some of the cases have been confirmed in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have attended sexual health services. Two of these cases have known contacts in common.

What does the UK Health Security Agency say?

The virus spreads through close contact and the UKHSA is advising people, particularly those who are gay, bisexual or who have sex with men, to be alert to any unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body.

The UKHSA and CDC said the virus does not usually spread easily between people and the risk to the population overall remains low.

London’s public health director, Professor Kevin Fenton, has said plans are in place to stock up on treatments in case infections rise in the capital.

These include vaccines and antiviral medicines, with household contacts of those infected possibly offered jabs.

The UKHSA is carrying out contact tracing of people who have been in close contact with the affected.

Recently our friends at Prepster talked with Mateo Prochazka from UKHSA about what we know so far about the spread of Monkeypox among gay, bi and men who have sex with men. You can watch this conversation in full below

What next?

UK: To keep up-to-date with all the latest information from the government, visit www.gov.uk/government/news/monkeypox-cases-confirmed-in-england-latest-updates?fbclid=IwAR3eKGpXpEbfSPsnzvfgUe-Kah9OfdFgQVUGq8dbN1A70Um4gWMGEXFv2xo

USA: To keep up-to-date with all the latest information from the US government / CDC, visit www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/index.html

Anyone who is worried is advised to contact sexual health services and to call ahead for an appointment, or to call 111.

To find your local sexual health clinic visit, www.nhs.uk/service-search/sexual-health

For more info about Monkeypox, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox