What is it, what are the symptoms, and how does it spread?

Monkeypox has now become a notifiable disease in England, meaning all medical professionals must alert local health authorities to suspected cases.

The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) said laboratories must also tell it if the virus is identified in a sample.

Since the beginning of May, more than 1,100 confirmed and suspected infections have been detected in 40 countries – including 302 in the UK (as of June 7).

Wendi Shepherd, UKHSA Director of Monkeypox Incidents, said: “Prompt diagnosis and reporting is key to interrupting transmission and curbing the further spread of monkeypox.

“This new legislation will help us and our healthcare partners quickly identify, treat and control the disease.

“It also assists us in the rapid collection and analysis of data, allowing us to identify possible outbreaks of the disease and quickly trace close contacts, while offering vaccinations where necessary to limit onward transmission.”

David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “Making monkeypox a reportable disease indicates a desire to ensure that all sectors (public and private) and all Areas are reported to the NHS.

“It suggests that the government wants to focus surveillance on the entire population – not just those at risk groups identified so far.

“This will allow for a clear identification of all risk groups and will help to better understand the epidemiology and the extent of the spread.”

The virus is rare to find in the UK and most previous cases on our shores have been linked to travel to other parts of the world where it is more common, particularly West Africa.

Monkeypox vaccines are being given to close contacts of known cases to stop the spread of the virus, and close contacts are self-isolating for 21 days.

Experts believe the virus is spreading between people, the first time it has been observed outside of Africa, with sexual contact believed to be the main cause.

Many, but not all, of the current UK cases are of males in the LGBTQ+ community and health officials are now urging this group to be particularly vigilant for “unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, particularly their genitals, and to contact a service for sexual health if they have concerns”.

What is Monkeypox virus?

The name monkeypox is somewhat misleading as it is a virus most commonly circulating in Africa in small mammals such as rats, which are thought to be the reservoir of the disease.

However, it can also infect monkeys. The visible lesions and bumps of the disease in an affected group of research primates in 1958 led to the diversion of a nickname.

It was first discovered in the 1950s and jumped to humans in the 1970s.

“It’s a poxvirus in the same family as the variola virus that caused smallpox before it was eradicated worldwide in 1980,” said Dr. Michael Skinner, Lecturer in Virology at Imperial College London.

He added that the smallpox vaccine could also protect against monkeypox, but that vaccination was discontinued in 1971 due to low levels of the disease.

dr Michael Head, a leading global health expert from the University of Southampton, said that with the UK’s sophisticated healthcare system, “the risks to the general public are extremely low”.

How is monkeypox spread?

Unlike Covid, monkeypox cannot spread easily in a population as it requires very close contact.

Transmission routes from one person to another are via large exhaled droplets and skin-to-skin contact with open wounds. It can also be caught by eating or touching infected animals.

“It’s a difficult virus to spread between humans,” said Dr. Head.

“It takes very close contact, for example skin-to-skin contact with a person who is contagious with a monkeypox rash. Between these new cases there will have been this close contact.”

Prof Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, estimates that the risk of a person infecting someone they live with is just 10 per cent.

It has recently emerged that the virus may also be transmitted during sexual activity, which has never been described before.

Experts are divided on the subject, and scientists are reluctant to say it’s a new STI. But some scientists say it’s possible the virus could be spreading in this “novel” way, even if it’s not the primary route of infection. What is it, what are the symptoms, and how does it spread?

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