UK worried monkeypox might be spreading among men who have sex with men

Monkeypox cases continue to increase. Shutterstock, TY Lim

Four additional cases of monkeypox were detected in the UK among men who have sex with men leading to concerns about the virus spreading in the community. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has detected four new cases that do not have known connections with the previously confirmed cases announced earlier this month. Overall there have been seven confirmed monkeypox cases in the UK between 6 and 15 May.

“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,” said Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser at UKHSA, as there are worries of further spread in the country.

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, but it can be fatal in some cases.

The virus’s incubation period is usually from six to 13 days but can range from five to 21. Once infected, symptoms typically resolve within 14 to 21 days.

Colin Brown, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA, emphasised that “monkeypox does not spread easily between people, and the overall risk to the general public is very low”.

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First case of monkeypox linked to Nigeria

On 7 May, monkeypox was confirmed in an individual who returned to the United Kingdom from Nigeria. Since September 2017, Nigeria has continued to report cases of monkeypox, with 558 suspected cases reported from 32 states in the country.

Two additional cases were confirmed the following week in the UK, not linked to the previous case and included individuals living in the same house.

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

Patients needing medical care are in specialist infectious disease units in the UK, while others are self-isolating. 

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Investigations are underway

UKHSA informed that people who might have been in close contact with the individuals are provided information and health advice while investigations are underway to establish links between the cases.

People without symptoms are not considered infectious, but, as a precaution, those who have been in close proximity are being contacted to ensure that if they do become unwell, they can be treated quickly. 

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 and then spreading to other body parts, including the genitals.

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

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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