Monkeypox: What is the rare infection and what are the symptoms?

A rash usually appears one to five days after the first symptoms of Monkeypox. Credit: Getty/AP

A further 50 cases of monkeypox have been detected in the UK, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

The agency said that 46 of the new cases were detected in England, while Scotland recorded three additional cases and Wales recorded one.

This brings the total number confirmed in the UK to 574, as of June 16.

There are currently 550 confirmed cases in England, 16 in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland and six in Wales.

Cases of the extremely rare infection have been reported across Europe, and in Canada and the US.

Those at high risk of having caught the infection should self-isolate for 21 days, latest government guidance says.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) also advises that they are offered a smallpox vaccine.

Health bosses have stressed the virus is rare, hard to spread between people, and easily treatable - here's everything you need to know.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare infection. It's mainly spread by wild animals in parts of west or central Africa, which is what makes the recent cases elsewhere in the world unusual.

The risk of catching it in the UK is very low, however, the cases confirmed in the UK are not all one cluster - with separate cases springing up that are unconnected.

Where have cases been reported in the UK and around the world?

In the UK, the first cases were reported in London and the North East, with the first infection confirmed on May 6.

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The USA's first reported case involves a man in Massachusetts who had recently travelled to Canada. He has been hospitalised but is in a good condition, health authorities said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also confirmed two cases related to that positive test. Health officials in Quebec earlier said they suspected 17 cases in the Montreal area.

In Europe, infections have been reported in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Health authorities in Australia have reported a single case.

Most recent cases in the global North have been confirmed to involve men who have sex with other men.

What are the symptoms?

It usually takes between five and 21 days for the first symptoms of the infection to appear.

The first symptoms of monkeypox include:

  • a high temperature

  • a headache

  • muscle aches

  • backache

  • swollen glands

  • shivering (chills)

  • exhaustion

A rash, which often begins on the face before spreading, usually appears one to five days after the first symptoms.

Handout image issued by the UK Health Security Agency of the stages of Monkeypox. Credit: UKHSA/PA

The rash, sometimes confused with chickenpox, starts as raised spots before becoming small fluid-filled blisters. The blisters eventually form scabs and later fall off.

Symptoms usually clear up in two to four weeks.

Is monkeypox dangerous?

Most people recover within a few weeks but severe illness can occur in some individuals.

Of the cases confirmed in the UK over the past month, at least three were treated in expert infectious disease units at hospital.

How does monkeypox spread?

You can catch monkeypox from an infected animal if you're bitten or you touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs.

It may also be possible to catch monkeypox by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked thoroughly, or by touching other products from infected animals (such as animal skin or fur).

Monkeypox is not easily transmitted between people.

It's very uncommon to get monkeypox from a person with the infection because it does not spread easily between people. But it can be spread through:

  • touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash

  • touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs

  • the coughs or sneezes of a person with the monkeypox rash

That's why health authorities highlighted the sexuality of the latest four cases due to the spread of the virus through close contact.

The UK Health Security Agency said: "The most recent cases are in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men communities, and as the virus spreads through close contact, we are advising these groups to be alert to any unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, and to contact a sexual health service if they have concerns."

What should I do if I think I have monkeypox?

Monkeypox does not spread easily between people and the risk to the UK population is low, health authorities have stressed.

Anyone who thinks they could be infected with the virus is advised to contact clinics or GPs before visiting in person. These calls are always confidential.

Medical professionals have been warned to be alert to patients presenting with rashes without a clear alternative diagnosis and are advised to contact specialist services for advice.

People are advised to ask for an urgent GP appointment of call 111 only if they have symptoms of monkeypox and have recently returned from west or central Africa; or if they have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox.

Health authorities are contacting people who are close contacts of the very few confirmed cases. NHS guidance states: "If you have not been contacted, and you have not travelled to west or central Africa, it's extremely unlikely you have monkeypox."