What is monkeypox? As 71 cases are detected in the UK, here’s everything you need to know about the virus

According to UKHSA, the initial symptoms of monkeypox include “fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.”

The organisation adds that, “A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals.

“The rash changes and goes through different stages – it can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab which later falls off.” 

For photos of monkeypox on different skintones, visit UKHSA.

How does monkeypox virus spread?

Animal-to-human transmission can occur from “direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals,” whereas “human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects” (via WHO). 

UKHSA explains, “The infection can be passed on through close contact or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox,” adding that, “the virus does not usually spread easily between people and the risk to the UK population remains low.”

How harmful is monkeypox virus? 

Dr Kobiler advises that we shouldn’t worry “too much” about the outbreak, saying, “While I expect there will be more cases before this outbreak is going to end (as we have yet to discover all transmission chains), the probability that this will become a major epidemic is quite low.”

“The suggested R0 [a mathematical measure of the contagiousness of infections] of monkeypox is below one thus the likelihood for maintaining an ongoing infection in human populations is low. Further, as we have vaccines and antivirals ready, I don’t anticipate significant morbidity and mortality.”

Dr Kobiler added, “The disease is mostly mild but can be life threatening, usually in high risk populations: young children, pregnant women, people with comorbidities and immunocompromised individuals. Sepsis, encephalitic, pneumonia and secondary bacterial infection are considered signs of severe disease and increased risk of mortality.” 

The WHO also notes that, “Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from [two to four] weeks. Severe cases occur more commonly among children and are related to the extent of virus exposure, patient health status and nature of complications.” 

It adds, “The case fatality ratio of monkeypox has historically ranged from 0 to 11 % in the general population and has been higher among young children. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3-6%.”

Why are gay and bisexual men, in particular, being encouraged to report symptoms of monkeypox?

In a statement, Dr Susan Hopkins, the Chief Medical Adviser, UKHSA, said, “A notable proportion of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men so we are particularly encouraging these men to be alert to the symptoms.”

UNAIDS, the UN’s programme on HIV and AIDS, has released a statement warning that stigmatising language surrounding monkeypox is a threat to public health. 

“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” said the UNAIDS deputy executive director, Matthew Kavanagh.

“Experience shows that stigmatising rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures.”

He added, “We appreciate the LGBTI community for having led the way on raising awareness – and we reiterate that this disease can affect anyone.”

Is there a vaccine for monkeypox? 

The UKHSA has purchased supplies of a safe smallpox vaccine (called Imvanex), which is being offered to identified close contacts of someone diagnosed with monkeypox. 

According to the UKHSA: “As of 10am on 23 May 2022, over 1,000 doses of Imvanex have been issued, or are in the process of being issued, to NHS Trusts. There remain over 3,500 doses of Imvanex in the UK.”

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox? 

If you think you may have come into very close contact with the monkeypox virus or you have unusual rashes or lesions on any part of your body (especially around your genitalia) it’s recommended to call 111 or get in touch with a sexual health clinic, and avoid close contact with other people until you have been seen by a clinician. 

The UKHSA is also contacting people considered to be “high-risk contacts of confirmed cases” and advising those who’ve been “risk-assessed and remain well to isolate at home for up to 21 day.”

For more information and advice related to monkeypox virus, visit NHS.uk, the World Health Organization’s website, or the UK Health Security Agency.

For more from Glamour UK’s Lucy Morgan, follow her on Instagram @lucyalexxandra.

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