Dangerious first Monkeypox Case since Virus. The UK Health Security Agency has now detected two additional cases bringing the total number to nine

Until a few weeks ago, not many people in the UK had heard of monkeypox, a virus which is usually linked with travel to west Africa. But as the total number of cases in England reaches nine, interest has grown. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says the virus does not usually spread easily and the risk to people is low.

Most of the cases so far are in men who are gay, bisexual or who have sex with men. Monkeypox is a rare viral infection mainly spread by wild animals in parts of west or central Africa. It is a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox, although it is much less severe and experts say chances of infection are low.

Where are the cases? The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has now detected nine cases in the UK. Two of the infected patients travelled from Nigeria, so it is likely that they are suffering from the west African strain of the virus, which is generally mild, but this is as yet unconfirmed. The third case was a healthcare worker who picked up the virus from one of the patients.

The six most recent cases – four in London, one in north-east England and one in south east England – do not have any known links with each other, or any history of travel. Recent cases are predominantly in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men (GBMSM). It appears they caught it in the UK. They are the first cases of widespread community transmission of monkeypox outside of Africa.

What are the symptoms? Initial symptoms include fever, headaches, swellings, back pain, aching muscles and a general listlessness. Once the fever breaks a rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body, most commonly the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, including the genitals. The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

How severe is it? Symptoms can be mild or severe, and lesions can be very itchy or painful, resembling chicken pox. Most patients recover from monkeypox in a few weeks. The rash, which can be extremely itchy, changes and goes through different stages before finally forming a scab, which later falls off. The lesions can cause scarring. The infection usually clears up on its own and lasts between 14 and 21 days. Anyone with concerns that they could be infected with monkeypox is advised to contact NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic.

How do you catch it? Monkeypox can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose or mouth. It has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be passed on by direct contact during sex. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said UK investigators are looking at the sexual contacts and venues visited – for example saunas, bars and clubs – for the GBMSM cases as part of backward contact tracing.

Should I be concerned? Not very, according to officials. The UK Health Security Agency say we are not on the brink of a national outbreak and the risk to the public is low. Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said: “The fact that only one of the 50 contacts of the initial monkeypox-infected patient has been infected shows how poorly infectious the virus is. It is wrong to think that we are on the brink of a nationwide outbreak.”

How to avoid passing it on Any illness during travel or upon return from an endemic area should be reported to a health professional, including information about all recent travel and immunisation history. Residents and travellers to endemic countries should avoid contact with sick animals (rodents and primates, dead or alive) that could harbour the monkeypox virus and should refrain from eating or handling wild game. Good hand hygiene, such as using soap and water, or alcohol-based sanitiser, is also recommended.

Are there any short or long-term risks? There are two clades of monkeypox virus: the west African clade and Congo Basin (central African) clade. Although the west African clade of monkeypox sometimes leads to severe illness in some individuals, the disease is usually self-limiting, with the symptoms lasting from two to four weeks.