UK authorities have identified nine cases of monkeypox this month, predominantly among gay and bisexual men, in an “unusual” outbreak of the disease usually limited to Africa.
Monkeypox is a viral infection which most people recover from after just a few weeks.
The virus typically spreads to people from infected animals like rodents. However human-to-human transmission has been known to occur.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said all the confirmed cases are believed to have been infected in London. However only one had travel links to Nigeria, and the agency’s investigations are ongoing.
“The two latest cases have no travel links to a country where monkeypox is endemic,” the UKHSA said in an advisory.
“It is possible they acquired the infection through community transmission.”
The UK Health Security Agency said the country’s recent cases were “predominantly in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.”
“UKHSA is working to urgently investigate where and how [the] cases were acquired, including how they may be linked to each other,” it said.
“The virus does not usually spread easily between people. The risk to the UK population remains low.”
Monkeypox is not described as a sexually transmitted infection. However it can be passed on by close contact during sex.
It can also be passed on through other close contact with a person who has monkeypox or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox.
Monkeypox cases in Europe and the US
Monkeypox is normally linked to tropical areas in western and central Africa.
UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said the UK cases, some without apparent links, are “rare and unusual”.
“These latest cases, together with reports of cases in countries across Europe, confirms our initial concerns that there could be spread of monkeypox within our communities,” she said.
“We’re particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay if they have concerns. Please contact clinics ahead of your visit.”
Meanwhile, Portuguese health authorities also confirmed five cases of monkeypox. All are in men around capital city Lisbon.
In the US, Massachusetts health officials also detected monkeypox in a man from Canada, the Daily Mail reported.
Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.
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.
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