Monkeypox: UK discovers new strain

Monkeypox: All you need to know about the disease

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Monkeypox is one of a number of viral threats which has hit the UK in 2022. Alongside the likes of COVID-19, polio, and hepatitis, the virus has experienced a renaissance since reappearing in the country for the first time since 2018. While the virus has not spread at the same speed as COVID-19 did in early 2020, it has nevertheless given cause for concern in the scientific community. Although the levels of anxiety have declined as the rate of new cases has declined, the virus has recently sprung back into the minds of many in government as a new strain of the virus is detected in the UK. As a result, the UKHSA (United Kingdom Health Security Agency) is on high alert as it works to examine whether it is a strain which could change the viral landscape.

In a statement, the UKHSA said they had “confirmed that an individual has been diagnosed with monkeypox linked to recent travel to West Africa” and that this individual “does not have the current outbreak strain circulating in the UK”.

Subsequently, there is a new strain of monkeypox in the UK which has originated from the African continent where monkeypox originated from.

In response to the new case, the individual with the new strain of the virus has been admitted to the High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) unit at the Royal Liverpool Hospital and contact tracing of the individual is underway.

The hope is that by isolating those who may have come into contact with the patient that the spread of this variant of monkeypox, an as yet unknown quantity, may be halted.

In statement, Incident Director for the UKHSA, Dr Sophia Maki said: “We are working to contact the individuals who have had close contact with the case prior to confirmation of their infection, to assess them as necessary and provide advice.

“UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be strictly followed and the risk to the general public is very low.

“We remind everyone who is planning to travel to West and Central Africa to be alert for the symptoms of monkeypox and to call 111 if you have symptoms on your return.”
Why is there such a strong response to just one case of monkeypox?

The reason for such a robust response is because it is not yet known how this new strain differs from the original strain of monkeypox first seen during the spring. As a result, just in case the new virus is deadlier or more transmissible, measures need to be taken to prevent its spread.

What is the current monkeypox situation in the UK?

Monkeypox remains a comparatively reduced threat to the UK since the outbreak first began in the spring; rates of new cases have fallen in recent weeks, leading some officials to conclude that the outbreak is either in retreat or the first wave has passed.

As of September 5, the UKHSA said: “There were 3,345 confirmed and 139 highly probable monkeypox cases in the UK: 3,484 in total. Of these, 89 were in Scotland, 30 were in Northern Ireland, 45 were in Wales and 3,320 were in England.”

England, and London specifically, remains the epicentre of the monkeypox outbreak and the virus mainly affects men who have sex with other men.

Does this mean monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

No, monkeypox is not an STI. It can be transmitted if someone comes into contact with the skin or material touched by an infected person; the virus can also be spread through large droplets.

How big is the threat from the virus?

In their latest risk assessment published on August 31, the UKHSA said: “There is continued decline in daily case numbers. This is subject to uncertainties around ascertainment. Importation is likely to be contributing to case numbers.

“It is likely that multiple factors, including but not limited to vaccination, are contributing to the decline in transmission (moderate confidence).”

As a result, it is believed that rates of the virus will continue to decline as the UK heads into autumn and winter. However, the discovery of a new variant could change that trajectory.

On the severity of monkeypox, the UKHSA added: “There are no reported deaths in the UK and a small number of deaths reported globally linked to the outbreak. There is significant morbidity amongst people who are admitted to hospital for clinical care reasons, including severe pain and complications due to secondary bacterial infection. Encephalitis has been reported although it appears uncommon.”

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms of the virus begin one to five days after infection and normally start with a rash that can appear anywhere on the body.

Other symptoms of the virus include:
• A high temperature
• A headache
• Muscle aches
• Backache
• Swollen glands
• Shivering
• Exhaustion
• Joint pain.

How long does it take for monkeypox to clear?

The NHS say that monkeypox symptoms “usually clear up in a few weeks. While you have symptoms, you can pass monkeypox on to other people”. As a result, some monkeypox patients have been asked to self-isolate for up to three weeks.

As monkeypox develops and mutates, this guidance could change and the UK’s approach to the virus will likely develop as the UK moves through the autumn and winter.

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