In Depth

What is monkeypox and should you be worried?

Second case of rare and potentially fatal disease diagnosed in the UK

Two people in the UK have now been diagnosed with monkeypox, a rare viral infection that can be fatal if left untreated.

Both patients had recently travelled to Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted the disease.

The first case was diagnosed in Cornwall and the second in Blackpool. There is not believed to be any link between the two cases.

Dr Mike Beadsworth, from Liverpool University Hospital, where the second patient is being treated, said: “The patient is being cared for on our specialist infectious and tropical diseases unit, by highly trained staff who are experienced in dealing with a variety of infectious diseases.”

Nigeria suffered the largest documented outbreak of monkeypox last year, four decades after the country’s last confirmed cases of the disease.

In the last three months of 2017, there were more than 170 suspected cases and more than 60 confirmed cases in different parts of the country. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against any restriction on travel in the area at the time as it said there was a “low risk” that international travellers would come into contact with the infection.

What is monkeypox?

According to the WHO website: “Monkeypox is a rare viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe.”

The monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 when outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research, says the UK government website’s infectious diseases portal.

The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms include “fever, headache, aching muscles, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion”, says the i news site. “A rash can also develop, usually starting on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. It eventually forms a scab, which falls off.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually seven to 14 days, but can range from five to 21 days. The public health institute adds that in Africa, where cases often go untreated, the disease “has been shown to cause death in as many as one in ten persons” who contract it.

Is the UK at risk?

Experts at PHE report that while monkeypox can be passed on, the disease does not spread easily, and that the risk of infection to the general population is “very low”.

“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,” the government agency has advised.

Dr Jacobs added: “It does not spread easily between people and the risk of transmission to the wider public is very low. We are using strict isolation procedures in hospital to protect our staff and patients.” 

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