The first cases of monkeypox were discovered in Wales and Northern Ireland, followed by eight more in England, bringing the total number of cases in the United Kingdom to 90. Since May 7, Scotland has reported three infections, while England has reported 85.
On Thursday, Public Health Wales (PHW) announced the country’s first case and stated that it was collaborating with other British health agencies to address the UK’s growing outbreak. “The case is being handled properly,” said Dr Giri Shankar, director of health protection at the PHW. “To protect patient confidentiality, no additional information about the patient will be disclosed.”
“We want to reassure people that monkeypox is not usually easily transmitted among people and that the overall risk to the general public is low.” Most people recover in a matter of weeks from this mild self-limiting illness. In contrast, severe illness can occur in some people.” The outbreak “was not unexpected given the presence of monkeypox cases elsewhere in the UK,” according to Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency.
The announcement comes as the United Kingdom Health Security Agency announced the purchase of more than 20,000 doses of a vaccine used to prevent smallpox, a viral infection similar to monkeypox.
People who have come into contact with infected people are given the vaccine and told to stay at home for three weeks because the virus has a long incubation period and symptoms can appear weeks later.
To date, the majority of cases identified in the UK have been among gay and bisexual men, who have been warned to be on the lookout for new rashes or lesions on parts of their body. “We are continuing to identify additional monkeypox cases in England quickly thanks to our extensive surveillance and contact tracing networks, our vigilant NHS services, and people reporting symptoms,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA.
Those who suspect they have symptoms should avoid contact with everyone and call 111 or their local sexual health service “as soon as possible.” In nearly 20 countries where monkeypox is not endemic, primarily in Europe, more than 130 confirmed or suspected infections have been detected.
The sudden increase in cases was described as “atypical” by the World Health Organization, but the outbreak remained “containable” and limited. According to the agency, the fact that cases have been reported in so many different countries suggests that the infection has been quietly spreading for some time.
Monkeypox is most common in West Africa, and the virus is difficult to spread between humans. In most cases, the illness is mild, and those infected with the virus recover in a matter of weeks.
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, backache, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, and chills. A rash on face may develop and spread to other areas of the body, including the genital area. The first case found in the UK was in a person who had recently returned from Nigeria, but subsequent cases have nothing to do with travel.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before, with such a large number of cases” in so many countries, said Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar. On Monday, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there had previously been small outbreaks, with cases documented in the UK, but that “this is different, something has changed,” and that superspreader event could be to blame.
“The virus could have changed,” Sir Jeremy speculated. “I believe that the niche that this virus now occupies has allowed for some superspreader events and that those who took part in those have then travelled to other parts of the world and brought the infection with them.”
Despite the fact that the disease can be fatal in up to 10% of cases, no deaths have been reported among current cases.