Northern Ireland health authorities preparing for potential monkeypox cases

27 October 2021, El Salvador, San Jos�: Dr. Carlos Ortega of the University of El Salvador Virology Center works on coronavirus genome sequencing. Photo: Camilo Freedman/dpa
Cases of the extremely rare infection have now been detected in Scotland, North East England and London. Credit: WHO

The Northern Ireland HSC Health Protection Agency is working with other health bodies to monitor and respond to any potential cases of monkeypox.

A multidisciplinary incident management team (IMT) has been established by the organisation to ensure that it is fully prepared for any potential risk to the population of Northern Ireland.

The confirmation comes after the first case of the extremely rare infection was detected in Scotland, the first in the UK to have been found outside of England where 20 cases have been flagged with the UK Health Security Agency.

So far, no cases have been detected in Northern Ireland.

Dr Gillian Armstrong, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Monkeypox is usually a mild self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks. “The infection can be passed on through close contact with someone with the infection, or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox. “However, the virus does not usually spread easily between people and the risk to the Northern Ireland population is considered low.” The PHA advises anyone who thinks they have been at risk of exposure with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, to contact their local healthcare provider or GUM clinic without delay if they have concerns. A statement added: "A notable proportion of recent cases in England and Europe have been found in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, so the PHA is particularly encouraging them to be alert to the symptoms and seek help if concerned.

"We can assure them their call or discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially. "Clinicians should be alert to individuals presenting with rashes without a clear alternative diagnosis and should contact specialist services for advice. Tweeting about the science behind monkeypox, Queen's University virologist Dr Connor Bamford said the infection was a form of poxvirus which tends to be 'vaccine preventable'.

"Our smallpox vaccine may protect against related viruses. There are even some useful antivirals that could be used," Dr Bamford tweeted.

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

The guidance comes after Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA, warned that monkeypox is spreading through community transmission.

So far the agency has confirmed 20 cases in the UK.

Dr Hopkins said updated figures for the weekend will be given on Monday as she warned of more cases “on a daily basis”.

The stages of a monkeypox lesion Credit: UKHSA/PA

The disease, first found in monkeys, can be transmitted from person to person through close physical contact, including sexual intercourse, and is caused by the monkeypox virus.

Dr Hopkins warned that doctors are seeing community transmission, with cases predominantly being identified in individuals who self-identify as gay or bisexual or men who have sex with other men.

As it is spread through close physical contact, it can affect anyone.

Boris Johnson said monkeypox was a rare disease but it was important to "keep an eye on it" following a spate of cases.

The Prime Minister told reporters on a visit to a school in south-east London:

"It's basically very rare disease, and so far the consequences don't seem to be very serious but it's important that we keep an eye on it and that's exactly what the the new UK Health Security Agency is doing. "

Asked whether there should be quarantine for visitors or the use of the smallpox vaccine, Mr Johnson said: "As things stand the judgment is that it's rare.

"I think we're looking very carefully at the circumstances of transmission.

"It hasn't yet proved, fatal in any case that we know of, certainly not in this country."

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