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Monkeypox cases detected in the UK

Woman in bed with her arm over her head
Woman in bed with her arm over her head Image credit:

Over the past few weeks there has been growing concern about monkeypox with more cases being diagnosed and the need to self isolate.

Despite the story being similar to Covid-19 we are being told it’s unlikely the illness will spread to a global pandemic.

Symptoms of monkeypox include aching muscles, back pain, a rash which usually starts on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, fever and back pain. The rash can be extremely painful although the infection usually goes away between 14 and 21 days.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggest anyone with the condition should isolate for 21 days providing their details for contact tracing avoiding contact with pregnant women, immunosuppressed people and children under the age of 12 without using personal protective equipment (PPE).

Monkeypox was first diagnosed in, unsurprisingly, monkeys in remote parts of Central and West Africa although it is thought the illness is only transmitted between physical contact and sexual intercourse.

The disease has taken the lives of people living in west and central Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but no deaths have been recorded outside the country.

Dr Susan Hopkiins, chief medical advisor for UKHSA, told the BBC: "We are finding cases that have no identified contact with an individual from west Africa, which is what we've seen previously in this country.

"We would recommend to anyone who is having changes in sex partners regularly, or having close contact with individuals that they don't know, to come forward if they develop a rash,"

A small number of people that had close contact with others have been given a smallpox vaccine, but the treatment is not expected to be offered on the health service.

The vaccines are expected to be 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, some countries have already started stockpiling the treatment.

"We're not using [the vaccine] in the general population," Hopkins said. "We're using it in individuals who we believe are at high risk of developing symptoms, and using it early, particularly within four or five days of the case developing symptoms.

"For contacts, [this] reduces your risk of developing disease, so that's how we're focusing our vaccination efforts at this point."

Experts are trying to establish why the virus has hit the UK now, one theory from the director of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Jermey Farrar is that there may have been a “superspreader” event where monkeypox has been taken back to different countries, including England.

There have been 20 cases of the virus reported in the UK, but Prof Tom Solomon, from the University of Liverpool’s Pandemic Institute said he would not be surprised if the total doubles this week, although people should not be “too alarmed”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “This is a very mild disease, if you didn't look for it you probably wouldn't even know that it had been occurring. So the numbers will go up.

"But the important thing is by identifying those cases we can isolate them, and isolate their contacts to stop the spread."

The World Health Organization has said it is "working with the affected countries and others to expand disease surveillance to find and support people who may be affected".

There have been cases of Monkeypox in at least 14 countries.