Monkeypox: Health agency urges people to look out for symptoms

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Monkeypox is unexpectedly running rampant in Europe and appears to have acquired community transmission. The virus typically arrives from nations where it is endemic, such as Nigeria, and rarely spreads from quarantined patients. The unprecedented outbreak has left scientists baffled and convinced a clutch of cases are likely travelling under the radar.

Early estimates suggested “tens” more have managed to escape detection so far.

Monkeypox periodically enters the UK, but never to the extent it has this year.

The last outbreak was in 2021, between May and June, and saw three people infected from the same family.

Officials managed to trace the cases back to a flight from Nigeria to the UK.

The latest outbreak started with a similar flight, but patients appear to have caught the transmitted the disease easier than previous.

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said the transmission trend was a cause for concern.

He said: “The monkeypox outbreak continues to escalate, and is undoubtedly worrying.

“The extent of the community transmission of monkeypox, being observed here in the UK and now in several other countries around the world, is concerning.”

However, Dr Head added that it was “important to highlight” the “very different” situation compared to the Covid pandemic.

“Given 11 further cases have been announced today, it’s likely there will be more cases to come in the UK.

“There certainly will be further cases confirmed in other countries.

“The contact tracing efforts by public health teams will be crucial in containing the outbreak.”

How is the UK dealing with monkeypox?

While announcing the UK’s case total had doubled this afternoon, health secretary Sajid Javid said most infections are “mild”.

There are no specific treatments for the virus or a targeted vaccine, but the smallpox vaccine can prevent up to 85 percent of infections.

Mr Javid confirmed his department has ordered additional jabs to establish a public health response.

Dr Head said the smallpox vaccination would form the cornerstone of monkeypox responses.

He said: “We may at some point see the use of the smallpox vaccine recommended for close contacts, as part of a ‘ring vaccination’ approach.

“For example, this was used successfully during an Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018/19, where close contacts were vaccinated as part of the public health response.”

Copying the targeted response used in the DRC would mean the Government wouldn’t have to launch another countrywide vaccine programme just months after the last round of Covid jabs in December 2021.

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