A patient is being treated at a specialist unit in London after they were diagnosed with monkeypox, a rare viral infection.
The person had recently travelled to Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted the illness, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Saturday. They are being treated in an isolation unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ infectious disease unit.
Although monkeypox can be spread during close contact with an infected person, the agency said it did not spread easily and most people recovered in a few weeks.
As a precaution, the UKHSA said its experts were working closely with the NHS and would be contacting those who may have had close contact with the person, including some passengers who were on the same flight.
Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. A rash can also develop, usually starting on the face before spreading to other areas of the body. The rash progresses through different states until it forms a scab which falls off.
Dr Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA, said: “It is important to emphasise that monkeypox does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the general public is very low.”
He added: “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.”
Dr Nicholas Price, director of NHSE high consequence infection diseases (airborne) network and consultant in infectious diseases at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “The patient is being treated in our specialist isolation unit at St Thomas’ hospital by expert clinical staff with strict infection prevention procedures.”
The NHS said infection could be caught from infected wild animals in parts of west and central Africa and was believed to be spread by rodents.
Only a few people have been diagnosed with monkeypox in the UK, all of whom had either travelled to west Africa or been in close contact with somebody who had.
According to Public Health England, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when outbreaks of a “pox-like disease” were found in monkeys in captivity for research. The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Since then, it said, most cases have been reported from DRC and Nigeria, but there have been a handful of cases further afield.
In 2003, cases were recorded in humans and pet prairie dogs in the US after rodents were imported from Africa.
In December 2019, a patient was diagnosed with monkeypox in England, which PHE said was the fourth case diagnosed in the UK since the first imported cases the year before. There have also been cases in Israel and Singapore.