How far has monkeypox spread within the UK?

ITV News' Sam Leader explains where monkeypox jabs are available

Nearly three months have passed since the UK officially recorded its first case of monkeypox, with the overall count now standing at nearly 3,000.

In late July the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a 'global health emergency' such was the level of spread the virus had assumed.

The Government's response has seen it rollout a vaccine programme for those deemed most at risk, though the pace of this has been criticised by LGBT+ groups.

So, how exactly is monkeypox affecting the UK today after several months of transmission?

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How many cases has the UK recorded?

The latest data from the UKHSA shows the UK has recorded 2,672 confirmed and 87 highly probable cases of monkeypox - correct as of Monday, August 1.

To date, the majority of cases in England have been recorded in London, though high numbers of infections have been detected in the south east, north west and east of England.

Meanwhile, the lowest number of official cases have been found in the north east.

Globally, only the US, Spain and Germany have detected more cases of the virus than the UK to this point.

Cases of monkeypox were confirmed in England from May 6, 2022.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a zoonotic infection caused by the monkeypox virus. It was first discovered in 1958 when outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.

The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and since then the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries.

Previous cases in the UK had been either imported from countries where monkeypox is endemic or contacts with documented epidemiological links to imported cases.

Between 2018 and 2021, there had been seven cases of monkeypox in the UK. In previous outbreaks there was no documented community transmission.

How can you contract monkeypox?

The spread of monkeypox may occur when a person comes into close contact with an infected animal, human, or materials contaminated with the virus. Monkeypox has not been detected in animals in the UK.

The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or a person's eyes, nose, or mouth.

Person-to-person spread is uncommon, but may occur through:

  • contact with clothing or linens - such as bedding or towels - used by an infected person

  • direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs

  • coughing or sneezing of an individual with a monkeypox rash

Anyone can get monkeypox. But the outbreak has mainly been in gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men without documented history of travel to endemic countries

A rash typically appears after the first five days of a monkeypox infection, which can spread to different parts of the body. Credit: AP

What are the symptoms?

According to the NHS the following are common symptoms that people can first develop after contracting monkeypox:

  • a high temperature

  • a headache

  • muscle aches

  • backache

  • swollen glands

  • shivering (chills)

  • exhaustion

  • joint pain

After the first five days of symptoms a rash usually appears, which begins on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body.

Anyone who thinks they could be infected is advised to stay at home and avoid close contact with other people.

You should also contact your GP or sexual health clinic before visiting in person. More information about this can be found on the NHS website.

How is monkeypox diagnosed?

Clinical diagnosis of monkeypox can be difficult, and it is often confused with other infections such as chickenpox.

A definite diagnosis requires an assessment by a health professional and testing in a specialist laboratory.

In the UK, the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL), at the UKHSA Porton Down, is the designated diagnostic laboratory.

What should I do if I'm asked to self-isolate?

If you are asked to self-isolate you should do so at home until:

  • you have not had a high temperature for at least 72 hours

  • you have had no new lesions in the previous 48 hours

  • all your lesions have scabbed over

  • you have no lesions in your mouth

  • any lesions on your face, arms and hands have scabbed over, all the scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath

Once you've come out of self isolation you should continue to avoid close contact with young children, pregnant women and immunosuppressed people, until the scabs on all your lesions have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath.

You could still be infectious before your scabs have fallen off.

When you leave your home or have any close contact with people in your household you should also cover any remaining lesions, until all the scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath.

What available treatments are there?

Treatment for monkeypox is mainly supportive as the infection is usually mild, and most people can recover without treatment after a few weeks.

But, if your symptoms are more severe and you become unwell, you may need treatment in hospital.

The British Government is currently offering a smallpox (MVA) vaccination to people who are most at risk right now to help protect them against monkeypox.

A smallpox vaccine is being used as the virus is similar to monkeypox and is expected to prevent or reduce the severity of any monkeypox infection.

However, there is a limited supply of the MVA vaccine, so initially, one dose is being offered to those at highest risk first.

The MVA vaccine is being offered in some specialist sexual health clinics and for healthcare workers from their employer. If you're unsure where to go locally you should visit NHS.UK to find your local clinic.

Who's eligible for a vaccine?

If you're deemed to be high risk your local NHS services will contact you and offer an appointment to receive your vaccine.

Some people may also be offered the vaccine alongside other appointments, for example for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Because of the limited supply, people who are not high risk are being urged not to attempt to book a vaccine.

The Government hopes to offer the vaccine to a wider pool of people once supplies have increased.

The UKHSA currently advises the following groups are offered a vaccine:

  • healthcare workers who are caring for and who are due to start caring for a patient with confirmed monkeypox

  • gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM)

  • people who have already had close contact with a patient with confirmed monkeypox

Though the vaccine is available across England it is most readily available in London where, last month, the NHS announced it would be accelerating its rollout.

The NHS and UKHSA said that London would receive additional doses of the existing supply in an effort to break the chains of transmission as quickly as possible.

But a joint letter by LGBT+ campaign groups, from across the political divide, has urged the Government to do more in its vaccination efforts.

“Vaccinating those most at risk of monkeypox must be a priority if we are to stand a chance of preventing the virus from becoming endemic in the UK," the letter signed by the LGBT+ groups for Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish National Party said.