All you need to know about monkeypox after global emergency declared

The most likely route of monkeypox transmission is close physical contact.

23 July 2022

The World Health Organisation has declared that the monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is a global emergency.

Here is everything you need to know:

–  What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is related to smallpox and cases are usually found in West and Central Africa, with the virus not often spreading elsewhere.

That is why outbreaks reported in multiple countries, including the UK and across Europe, caused alarm among public health experts.

UK monkeypox cases
The stages of a monkeypox lesion (UKHSA/PA)

The disease, which was first discovered in monkeys, is usually mild but can cause severe illness in some cases.

– What are the symptoms?

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue, but some may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

The rash can look like chickenpox or syphilis, and scabs can form which then fall off.

Most people recover within a few weeks.

The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from six to 13 days, but can range from five to 21 days.

– How does monkeypox spread?

The most likely route of monkeypox transmission is close physical contact, touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash, or touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs.

There is a smaller risk of it being spread through coughs and sneezes, and as prolonged face-to-face contact would be needed, this is not one of the main routes of transmission for the monkeypox virus.

Sexual intercourse is thought to expose people to a higher risk of contracting the disease as, although it is not known to be sexually transmitted, the close physical contact involved means exposure is more likely.

A majority of the cases seen so far have been in gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men.

Monkeypox patient
The most likely route of monkeypox transmission is close physical contact (Alamy/PA)

– What is the level of risk in the UK?

The type of monkeypox involved in the outbreak is a West African variety said to be fatal in only one per cent of cases.

The UKHSA said that, after the WHO declaration of a global emergency, the risk to the UK remains the same.

In an update on July 22, the UKHSA said the most recent data suggested the growth of the outbreak might have slowed – meaning they are continuing to identify new infections but at a more stable rate.

– When did monkeypox arrive in the UK?

The first case connected to the current outbreak was recorded in England on May 7 2022.

Scotland recorded its first case on May 23, while Wales and Northern Ireland confirmed cases on May 26.

– How many cases are there in the UK currently?

As of July 21, there were 2,208 confirmed cases in the UK.

Of those, 2,115 were in England, and the UK Health Security Agency said a high proportion of cases were in London.

– What is the current public health guidance for monkeypox?

UKHSA guidance for close contacts of a confirmed monkeypox case has been updated to advise that close contacts do not need to isolate at home if they do not have symptoms.

Close contacts are advised to call NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic if they develop a fever or any monkeypox symptoms, and to avoid skin-to-skin contact with others, avoid international travel if possible and to let health or dental facility staff know they are a close contact before attending appointments.

Because it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to appear after being in contact with someone with monkeypox, people are advised to stay alert for symptoms after having skin-to-skin or sexual contact with someone new.

– Why has the WHO declared a global emergency?

There are now more than 16,000 reported cases from 75 countries and territories, and five deaths, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said – up from 3,040 cases in 47 countries around a month ago.

He acknowledged that the committee was unable to reach a consensus on whether the outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

But he said this is an outbreak “that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations” and he had therefore decided that it should be declared a global emergency.

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