What is monkeypox, how serious is the outbreak, and what can you do to avoid it?

Source: news.sky.com : 2022-05-16 07:53:00 :

Monkeypox is very difficult to catch from someone carrying the infection and is mostly caught from infected wild animals in west of Central Africa.

However, the disease, first found in monkeys, can be transmitted from person to person through close physical contact, including sexual intercourse, and is caused by the monkeypox virus.

The head of the World Health Organisation on Saturday declared the monkeypox outbreak a “global health emergency” despite the WHO committee being unable to come to a consensus on the matter.

He explained that the declaration was designed to trigger an international response to the outbreak, which could unlock funding and vaccine sharing.

How many cases are there in the UK?

So far the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed 2,208 cases in the UK of which 2,115 are in England.

How is it spreading?

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA, has warned that monkeypox is spreading through community transmission.

Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by the spread of the virus, with 98% of those infected from this group.

Asked why it is being found in that demographic, Dr Hopkins said: “That’s because of the frequent close contacts they may have.

“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.”

There is no direct vaccine for monkeypox but a form of smallpox vaccine – which hasn’t been used routinely in the UK since 1971 – is being used that is safe in individuals who are contacts of cases.

There is some evidence from the past that children get more severe symptoms, so public health teams are trying to shut down the virus’s spread as quickly as possible.

Undated handout image issued by the UK Health Security Agency of the stages of Monkeypox. Two more cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in England, health bosses said. One of the two people, who live in the same household, is being treated in hospital, the UK Health Security Agency said. Issue date: Saturday May 14, 2022.
The stages of monkeypox. Pic: UK Health Security Agency

Could it end up similar to COVID-19?

The WHO says the virus is not as contagious as COVID-19 as it requires close contact to spread.

“We have a window of opportunity to control this outbreak by working closely with communities and groups at higher risk to stop transmission,” the WHO stated.

“It is essential for everyone to work together now to stop the spread by knowing their risk and taking action to lower it.”

How can you catch monkeypox?

According to the NHS, you can catch monkeypox if you are bitten by an infected animal or if you touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs.

Catching it from an infected person is very uncommon, but transmission is possible through close physical contact including sexual intercourse, touching clothing, bedding, towels or other items used by someone with the rash.

Contact with their blisters or scabs or exposure to their coughs or sneezes could also put you at risk.

Health experts have said the infection can also be caught by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked properly.

It is also possible to catch monkeypox by touching other products such as skin or fur which came from an infected animal.

The rare infection is mostly spread by rodents, such as rats, mice and squirrels, in parts of west or central Africa.

If people travel to destinations in those regions, they are advised to regularly wash their hands or use hand sanitisers and only eat meat which has been cooked thoroughly.

To further minimise infection, people should not go near wild or stray animals, including those that are dead or appear to be unwell.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

It normally takes between five and 21 days for symptoms to appear.

The initial symptoms include a high temperature, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering and exhaustion.

A rash will usually appear between one and five days after the first symptoms, beginning on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body.

It can be confused with chickenpox as it begins with raised spots.

The symptoms will usually disappear in two to four weeks, although some people will need hospital treatment.

Single genital lesions and sores on the mouth or anus have also now been identified as monkeypox symptoms by an international collaboration of clinicians across 16 countries.

Anyone concerned about possible symptoms is being asked to come forward for a check-up.

What should I do if I have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox?

Contacts of monkeypox cases at high risk of having caught the infection should self-isolate for 21 days, according to the latest government guidance.

The UKHSA recommends people who have had “unprotected direct contact or high-risk environmental contact” should isolate for three weeks.

This includes no travel, providing details for contact tracing and avoiding direct contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and children under 12.

Those who are considered at high risk of having caught monkeypox may have had household contact, sexual contact, or have changed an infected person’s bedding without wearing appropriate PPE, it says.

The UKHSA also advises that they are offered a smallpox vaccine.

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