Monkeypox Frequently Asked Questions

What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a very uncommon infection that produces a spotty, itchy and sore rash, and sometimes a fever. It can affect the whole body. It is caused by a virus - the monkeypox virus - which is found naturally in some animals in Central and West Africa. It's very uncommon to get monkeypox from someone else. It does not spread easily between people. It takes close contact to spread. The biggest risk of spread between people is through sexual contact or close contact with household members.

It can also be spread through:

  • touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash
  • touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs
  • the coughs or sneezes of a person with monkeypox

Monkeypox can, very occasionally, produce serious symptoms – sometimes, even death. Most cases, however are mild and self-limiting.

Why is monkeypox in the news now?
Monkeypox is in the news now because there have been several thousand cases of monkeypox in countries where the virus is not found naturally, and monkeypox has now been confirmed in Ireland. This outbreak is unusual because the vast majority of the cases do not have a travel link to Central or West Africa. Also, many of the cases in this outbreak are men who self-identify as gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (gbMSM).

How can you catch monkeypox?
You can catch monkeypox if you:

  • Come in contact with the rash, rash fluid or scabs of a person who has monkeypox, especially if you are caring for the sick person, living with the sick person, or if you are the sexual partner of a sick person
  • Touch objects contaminated by an infected person such as bed linen, towels or clothing
  • Are in close contact with an infected person and breathe in the virus which can be passed on when they cough or sneeze.

You can also catch monkeypox in countries where monkeypox is found naturally in animals if you:

  • Touch or handle an animal that is infected with monkeypox
  • Are bitten or scratched by an animal with monkeypox
  • Eat bushmeat that is infected with monkeypox (especially if it has not been thoroughly cooked, or if the meat is still bloody)
  • Touch objects contaminated by infected animals (such as bedding), or products from infected animals (such as animal hides).

An infected person can pass the infection on to another person (most especially household members and sexual partners). Occasionally, monkeypox can be passed to other people who are in close contact with the sick person.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Monkeypox symptoms can appear in two stages, however, some people may only have a rash:

  • Initial symptoms: The first stage usually begins with a sudden onset of fever (higher than 38.50C) and chills, followed by a bad headache, swollen glands (in the neck, under the arms, in the groin) and exhaustion. There may also be muscle ache, backache, cough and runny nose, and gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhoea). Not everyone with monkeypox has these initial symptoms.
  • Rash: 1 to 3 days after the fever starts, an itchy rash appears. It may first appear on the face and spread to other parts of the body. The rash generally is only seen on the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet and occasionally in the mouth. The rash starts like pimples, that grow and turn into sores. Scabs then form, which eventually drop off. Following sexual contact, the rash can also be found in the genitals and around the anus, and may not spread elsewhere. The images below (courtesy of UKHSA) show the different stages of the monkeypox rash.

Monkeypox rash

Monkeypox rash UK image 2

Images courtesy of UK Health Security Agency

Most cases of monkeypox are mild, and people who get monkeypox usually make a full recovery. Very occasionally monkeypox can be severe – people can die from it. Severe illness can occur in people with very weak immune systems, pregnant women and in very small babies. There have been no deaths in the current multi-country outbreak.

In which countries is monkeypox found naturally in animals?
Monkeypox virus is found naturally in certain Central and West African countries. Monkeypox has been found in Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. Monkeypox is not found naturally in animals in Ireland.

There are two types of monkeypox: West African monkeypox and Congo Basin monkeypox. It is the milder, West African type that is causing the current outbreak.

How infectious is monkeypox?
Monkeypox, fortunately, is not very infectious. If a person catches monkeypox, they generally begin to develop symptoms after about 1 to 2 weeks (but symptoms can take up to 3 weeks to appear). The person is infectious (they can pass the infection on to other people) from the point at which they develop a fever (or just before the rash appears if they don’t have a fever), until their rash is completely healed.

How long are people sick with monkeypox?
People with monkeypox generally recover in 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity of their infection.

How is monkeypox diagnosed?
If monkeypox is suspected, samples are taken from the skin rash and sent away to a specialist lab. If you don’t have a rash but have other symptoms, a swab from your throat might be taken.

Can monkeypox be treated?
There is no medicine that can cure monkeypox but sometimes medicines against viruses in general can be used to lessen the impact of the disease. Mostly, management of monkeypox involves treating any uncomfortable symptoms, such as pain or itch, keeping the person warm, comfortable and relaxed, and making sure they get plenty of fluids. This allows the person’s own body defences to fight the infection. The great majority of people with monkeypox make a full and uneventful recovery. If a person becomes unwell and needs to go to hospital they will be isolated in a separate, special hospital room so that the risk of further spread is kept to a minimum.

Who is at risk of catching monkeypox from a person with monkeypox?
Monkeypox can be passed to other people who are in close contact with someone with monkeypox. Contact with household members or sexual contact poses the biggest risks of person-to-person spread. It is important that any further spread of the infection is stopped, therefore, household and sexual contacts, and any other people who had close contact with the person with monkeypox, will be monitored for three weeks to make sure they don’t develop symptoms.

Why are there cases in the gbMSM community?
Anyone, regardless of their sexuality, can get monkeypox. However, many of the cases in the current multi-country outbreak are in men who self-identify as gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (gbMSM). The reason we are hearing more reports of cases of monkeypox in gbMSM communities may be because of positive health seeking behaviour in this community and increased awareness of the outbreak among healthcare workers providing sexual health services. Monkeypox rashes can resemble some sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes and syphilis, which may explain why many of the initial cases were picked up at sexual health clinics.

As the virus spreads through close contact, the HSE is advising those who self-identify as gbMSM (especially if they have undertaken international travel in the past month) to be alert to any unusual rashes or vesicular lesions (fluid filled blisters) on any part of their (or their partner’s) body, especially their genitalia and anus. If they do notice any such changes, they should contact their local STI Clinic or their General Practitioner (GP) for advice. They should keep away from other people and not engage in sexual contact until they have been seen.

A list of public STI services is available on the HSE’s Sexual Wellbeing website https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/hse-sti-services-in-ireland.html.

How do I reduce my risk of monkeypox if I have multiple sexual partners?

  • As monkeypox is passed on through very close contact, sexual contact can result in transmission. Those with multiple sexual partners might consider limiting sexual contact during this time and should be alert to the symptoms of monkeypox. Anyone, regardless of their sexuality, can get monkeypox.
  • Condoms may be useful to reduce monkeypox transmission during some types of sex, but because monkeypox can be transmitted through close contact with rash on parts of the body that condoms don't cover, they won't offer full protection.
  • If you have a rash, contact your local sexual health clinic. Keep away from other people and do not engage in sexual contact until you have been seen. A list of public STI services is available on the HSE’s Sexual Wellbeing website https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/hse-sti-services-in-ireland.html.

If a monkeypox case is identified in Ireland, how worrying should that be for other people, living in the same area or town, as the person with monkeypox?
It should not be a worry at all. Monkeypox is only spread to people who have been in close contact with a person with monkeypox. If you have not had any close (in particular household or sexual) contact with the person, then the risk to you will be minimal. Local Public Health doctors will very quickly be in touch with anyone who had contact with the person with monkeypox, and they will organise follow up for everyone who needs it.

I think I have a monkeypox rash, what do I do?
If you have a rash that looks like a monkeypox rash, contact your local sexual health clinic or general practitioner. Keep away from other people and do not engage in sexual contact until you have been seen.

Who is a close contact of a person with monkeypox?
A person with monkeypox infection may pass on the infection to close contacts from the time they have symptoms until the rash is fully healed. A close contact is someone who has been in close proximity to the person with monkeypox (this can mean household or sexual contacts and healthcare workers caring for the patient) during the time the person may have been infectious.

Public Health doctors will ask the person with monkeypox who they were in contact with during the time that they had symptoms. Public Health doctors will then determine who needs to be followed up as a close contact. Close contacts will be asked to monitor themselves for symptoms of monkeypox for 21 days. Depending on how a person was exposed and their personal circumstances, some close contacts may be advised to reduce contact with vulnerable people (those with very weak immune systems, pregnant women, and young children) and avoid close physical contact. Some contacts may need to avoid sexual contact during their period of monitoring.

Is there a vaccine against monkeypox?
The HSE has secured supplies of a vaccine. Depending on availability, this will be used for some close contacts and some healthcare workers caring for people with monkeypox. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has more information on monkeypox vaccination here (https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/hcpinfo/guidelines/ch20a.pdf).

How do I reduce my risk of monkeypox if I am travelling to a country with naturally occurring monkeypox?

  • Try to avoid people who are sick, especially if they have a fever or rash.
  • If you are staying with someone who is sick, make sure they are seen by a doctor.
  • If you are caring for a sick person, make sure to wear rubber/latex gloves, a splash-proof gown and a
  • facemask.
  • After seeing or caring for a sick person, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
  • If you eat bushmeat and other meats, make sure they are thoroughly cooked, and hot through.
  • If you are handling any animals (especially sick animals), make sure you wear rubber/latex gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.
  • Avoid contact with any bedding that has been in used for a sick animal
  • If you get sick while you are away, be sure to contact a doctor to get medical advice

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Last updated: 23 June 2022