UK detects another 14 cases of monkeypox – taking total to 71

FOURTEEN more cases of monkeypox have been announced by UK health officials today.

It brings England’s total since early May to 70, with an additional monkeypox case reported in Scotland.

As of 23 May, no cases have so far been identified in Wales or Northern Ireland.

Despite further cases being detected, the risk to the UK population remains low, the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said. 

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser, UKHSA, warned people to be aware of "rashes or lesions on any part of their body".

She said this was particularly important if someone has a new sexual partner.

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"They should limit their contact with others and contact NHS 111 or their local sexual health service as soon as possible, though please phone ahead before attending in person," she said.

A rash is a key symptom of the monkeypox virus.

At first it looks similar to chickenpox, before developing into pus-filled blisters which eventually scab over.

A person is infectious until their scabs have fallen off, and experts warn the bug can be caught from objects they touch, such as bedding, towels or utensils.

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It can also be spread through physical contact, including sexual, although is not considered a “sexually transmited infection” (STI). 

UKHSA health protection teams are contacting people considered to be high-risk contacts of confirmed cases.

They are being advised to isolate themselves at home for up to 21 days.

In addition, UKHSA has purchased supplies of a smallpox vaccine called Imvanex which is being offered to close contacts of someone diagnosed with monkeypox.

Although the vaccine is against smallpox – a virus declared eradicated in 1980 – it is shown to be 85 per cent effective against the similar monkeypox virus.

But most Brits won’t have had it, given it was discontinued upon the eradication of smallpox. 

Worldwide spread

Health authorities in Europe, North America, Israel and Australia have identified more than 100 cases of monkeypox in recent days.

The outbreak is unusual because it is affecting countries where monkeypox is not endemic.

It is only endemic in parts of Africa, where there are some 9,000 cases per year, and humans are typically infected by animals.

Health officials are still investigating, but a top adviser to the WHO said this week that the leading theory is that monkeypox was likely spread after sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.

Most cases have been in men who have sex with men, including those who are gay and bisexual.

However, experts have stressed the importance of avoiding a "gay disease" label, which could lead to stigma, and therefore further spread.

It may just be unlucky that monkeypox happened to get into this one particular community first, said Dr Jake Dunning, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Oxford.

It's just that they are a community and by having sex with each other, that is how it's spreading, he said.

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While monkeypox is a mild illness which gets better with time, in very rare cases it can lead to death.

About six per cent of cases are fatal, the WHO.

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