There’s a lot in the news about Mpox (which used to be called Monkeypox) at the moment, so here’s a quick guide to what it is and how to protect ourselves from it. There’s one (very chill) pic of some symptoms in the article.
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Mpox is a virus which was originally discovered in 1958, in monkeys. There have been outbreaks in central and western African in the last few years but these have been cases where the outbreaks are from animals to humans.
The reason it’s in the news at the moment is that Mpox is spreading via human to human contact, particularly in the UK, home to Bish, but also in other parts of the world.
Who is it affecting and is it serious?
The virus has only infected a small number of people, so let’s not panic. It’s just good to be aware of what the signs and symptoms are, and what to do about it. This way we can all just keep each other informed and safe.
At the moment it seems to mostly be affecting gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men. Mpox is affecting the social networks of people who have sex with each other (and possibly anyone they might live with). So sexual health services are targeting sexually active gay and bi men, particularly those who have had a few partners recently, because this a network of people potentially having sex with each other. It’s a sensible measure to protect the group of people most likely to get the virus.
Mostly, it’s not a serious virus, and people will usually recover within 2 to 4 weeks. However, the symptoms aren’t pleasant and in rare cases it can prove fatal. We do have a vaccine for Smallpox which would work for this and that is being rolled out to the people who need it most.
Signs and symptoms
The kinds of symptoms to look out for are:
- Intense headache
- Swelling of the lymph nodes (or glands) (eg in the neck or in the groin)
- Back pain
- Muscle aches
- Lack of energy
- Rashes on the face which might spread to the, hands, mouth, or genitals
- Followed by blisters that then fill up, dry out, and fall off
From the latest research it seems like it’s the blisters and rashes that are the most common symptom. These are mostly around the genital area and around the anus too. They can also be found inside the anus, in the mouth and at the back of the throat. How those blisters are looking in the current UK outbreak. They appear a bit like chickenpox
You might get a cluster of blisters like this or even just one. Some people have thought they were a kind of STI like herpes. If you’ve had the infection for a while you might get a sore throat, or painful penis, or painful anus.
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How is it transmitted?
People think that it’s spread by close personal contact rather than from sexual fluids (though that’s not certain yet). So any kind of sexual or intimate contact might put someone at risk of getting it, even if they are wearing a condom.
Mpox is not easily spread between people, but it can be spread by:
- Close skin contact with someone with an outbreak
- Sharing towels or bedding with someone with an outbreak
- Breathing in the droplets of someone with an outbreak.
The vast majority of people (95%) who have acquired monkeypox think they have got it from having sex. Where the symptoms occur suggests that it’s various sexual activities that might be the route for the virus to be contracted. Though not necessarily penetrative sex 👉👌.
We don’t know if it’s contracted by sexual fluids (eg jizz) but it’s seeming likely that it’s acquired by exposure to a blister, rash, or sore. There are some similarities between the signs of monkeypox and the signs of other STIs. The latest research suggests that some people getting monkeypox also got another STI too.
It could be spread by people who haven’t developed symptoms yet, as it takes 5 to 21 days for them to appear, but this is something that is still being researched so we don’t really know.
What to do?
If you think you might have it, in the UK you can call the NHS on 111, or you can call your doctor or local sexual health service. All the sexual health services I’ve seen tweeting about this have said “call us first, don’t come in until we ask you to”.
Find your nearest sexual health service in the UK by clicking here (and also find out what they do and what it’s like to go to them). A key part of the UK’s response to this virus outbreak is to do what is known as ‘contact tracing’ where the brilliant staff at these clinics will try to get in touch with anyone that has had a close contact with someone who is infected. This is all done confidentially. Everything is also free.
The safest thing to do is to avoid sexual (or close intimate contact) with people if you have any symptoms.
It’s just good to try and chat with any sexual partners about whether you or they have had any of these symptoms lately, before having sex. Remember, this is still incredibly rare, but it’s just about being sensible. You could just send a simple text with a screenshot of the symptoms and say “hey, just to let you know, I’ve not had any of these lately, how about you?”
If you’re in one of the social networks of people that are most affected by the virus then it’s even more important to do this. Even among sexually active gay and bi men, it’s still not super common but it’s wise to be watchful. If you are hosting events, you could ask people to not come if they have any symptoms of monkeypox. Just like we do if we suspect we might have Covid symptoms too.
The kinds of things that might prevent STIs (like condoms and non-penetrative sex) might not be as effective for monkeypox, however they can’t hurt. We still don’t know enough yet about how it’s transmitted but these steps may offer some protection.
These are just the kinds of precautions we all could be taking all of the time too. Safer sex is not just about STIs, but all of the illnesses, and other harms, that we can be causing. So let’s just be sensible and communicate with each other. There’s more advice about how to talk about safer sex here.
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.