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Monkeypox: Rare disease explained

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The new cases of monkeypox – three in London and one in north-east England – have not been linked to the three previously identified cases. It brings the total number of UK cases to seven. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says investigations are underway to establish links between the latest four individuals, all of whom appear to have been infected in London.

The four new cases do share a common characteristic, however.

All four of these cases self-identify as gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. This has prompted researchers to consider sex as a potential means of transmission.

Mateo Prochazka, an STI expert and the head of the UKHSA team investigating the monkeypox cases, said sex has never been described before as a means of monkeypox transmission.

“Close contact between two people (such as during sex) could facilitate transmission – but this has never been described before,” he said.

“However, the high proportion of cases in the current outbreak in England that are gay or bisexual (4/7, oklahoma board pharmacy 57 percent) is highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks.

“This is further suggested by the fact that common contacts have been identified for only two of the four latest cases.”

Since the most recent cases are in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men communities, and as the virus spreads through close contact, the UKHSA is advising these groups to be alert to any unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, and to contact a sexual health service if they have concerns.

Anyone with concerns that they could be infected with Monkeypox is advised to make contact with clinics ahead of their visit.

“We can assure them their call or discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially,” says the UKHSA.

Doctor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser, UKHSA, said:

“This is rare and unusual. UKHSA is rapidly investigating the source of these infections because the evidence suggests that there may be transmission of the monkeypox virus in the community, spread by close contact. 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.

“We are contacting any potential close contacts of the cases to provide health information and advice.”

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What is monkey pox and what should I be looking out for?

Monkeypox is a viral infection usually associated with travel to West Africa.

It is usually a mild self-limiting illness, spread by very close contact with someone with monkeypox and most people recover within a few weeks.

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

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

The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chicken pox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if:

  • You have symptoms of monkeypox and have recently returned from west or central Africa
  • You have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox.

It’s important to note that, in relation to the latest four cases, there is no link to travel to a country where monkeypox is endemic, and exactly where and how they acquired their infections remains under urgent investigation, including whether they have further links to each other.

Those patients needing medical care are all in specialist infectious disease units at the Royal Free Hospital, Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne and Guys’ and St Thomas’.

The individuals have the West African clade of the virus, which is mild compared to the Central African clade.

How is monkeypox treated?

The NHS says: “Treatment for monkeypox aims to relieve symptoms. The illness is usually mild and most people recover in two to four weeks.

“You’ll usually need to stay in a specialist hospital, so the infection does not spread to other people and your symptoms can be treated.”

The health body adds: “Most people with monkeypox recover within a few weeks”.

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