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Monkeypox: an insight into the virus and the NHS response

The Monkeypox virus is the latest outbreak grabbing headlines following the coronavirus pandemic. With seventy-eight confirmed cases across the UK, we examine the threat of the virus and the NHS response.

Cases of Monkeypox are currently being investigated in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. These health systems are staying cautious of the outbreak, although the virus is still extremely rare. In the UK there have been seventy-eight confirmed cases in recent weeks.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by the Monkeypox virus, a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox, although it is much less severe and experts say chances of infection are low. It occurs mostly in remote parts of central and west African countries, near tropical rainforests.

There are two main strains of virus – west African and central African. Two of the infected patients in the UK travelled from Nigeria, so it is likely that they are suffering from the West African strain, which is generally mild. Another case included a healthcare worker who picked up the virus from one of the patients.

More recent cases do not have any known links with each other, or any history of travel. It appears they caught the virus in the UK from spread in the community.

The UK Health Security Agency says if anyone is concerned that they could be infected, they should see a health professional, but make contact with the clinic or surgery ahead of a visit.

Symptoms, transmission and treatment

In most cases, symptoms are very mild, initially starting as fever, headaches, aching muscles before a rash develops all over the body. The infection usually clears up on its own and lasts between 14 and 21 days. The rash can be extremely itchy and painful, going through various stages before forming a scab which later falls off. The UK Health Security Agency have warned that these scabs are still infectious after they have fallen off the body.

Monkeypox is spread from close contact with an infected person. This could be through broken skin, the respiratory tract, through the eyes, nose, or mouth. It can also pass by direct contact during sexual activity. Contact with infected animals such as rats or contaminated objects can also transmit the virus.

Treatment for infected individuals is to wait out the 14 to 21 days of the virus in isolation. Most cases are mild and require rest to allow the virus to pass. The Government is controlling the outbreak through infection prevention and issue the smallpox vaccination – which is proven to be 85% effective in preventing Monkeypox.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser, UK Health Security Agency commented:

“We are continuing to promptly detect new Monkeypox cases through our extensive surveillance network and NHS services.

If anyone suspects they might have rashes or lesions on any part of their body, particularly if they have recently had a new sexual partner, 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.”

Concern or just precaution?

Experts say we are not on the brink of a national outbreak and according to the UK Health Security Agency, the risk is exceptionally low. The response of quarantine and strict isolation for infected individuals is a naturally precautious response following the disaster of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most people in the UK who are unlucky enough to catch Monkeypox will have a very mild form of the disease and recover quickly at home. Currently, the outbreak shows no reason for concern, but we will see how the situation develops in the coming weeks.

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