Cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Wales and Northern Ireland, public health officials have announced, as experts stress the risk to the general public remains low.
Public Health Wales, which has confirmed one case, urged people to be aware of the symptoms of the virus, adding it was important for gay and bisexual men to be alert. A sizeable proportion of monkeypox cases recently diagnosed in England have been found among people who identify as gay or bisexual and among men who have sex with men.
The director of health protection at Public Health Wales, Dr Giri Shankar, said: “We are working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Public Health Scotland, and Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, and we are ready to respond to cases of monkeypox in Wales.
“The case is being managed appropriately. To protect patient confidentiality, no further details relating to the patient will be disclosed.”
He added: “We are reassuring people that monkeypox does not usually spread easily between people, and the overall risk to the general public is low. It is usually a mild self-limiting illness, and most people recover within a few weeks. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals.”
On Thursday, a case of monkeypox was also confirmed in Northern Ireland.
“This was not unexpected following the presence of monkeypox cases elsewhere in the UK,” the Public Health Agency (PHA) of Northern Ireland said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the UKHSA announced that seven additional cases of monkeypox had been confirmed in England, bringing the total to 77. One case has also been identified to date in Scotland.
The UKHSA has revealed that a vaccine against smallpox – a related but more serious disease that has been globally eradicated – is being offered to close contacts of people who have been diagnosed with monkeypox to reduce the risk of symptomatic infection and severe illness.
“Previous data from Africa suggests that previous vaccines against smallpox may be up to 85% effective in preventing monkeypox infection,” a document released by the agency reveals.
The rising number of cases of monkeypox in multiple countries around the world is unusual: while cases have cropped up in countries including the UK in the past, these have typically been in people who have returned from countries in central or western Africa, where the virus is endemic.
Among the hypotheses experts are exploring to explain the surge is that the virus may have been circulating at low levels in the UK for several years before it took off.
Experts have also noted the outbreak may have been made more likely given most countries ended their smallpox vaccination programmes in the 1970s, and the vaccine also offers protection against monkeypox.