Monkeypox: UK Health Security Agency issues new advice ahead of case update

the The UK Health Safety Agency has issued new advice regarding monkeypox ahead of an update on the number of reported cases later today (Monday).

Contacts of monkeypox cases at high risk of having caught the infection should now self-isolate for 21 days, according to new guidelines from the latest government agency. The advice applies to people who have had “unprotected direct contact or high-risk environmental contact”.

This includes banning travel, providing details for contact tracing and avoiding direct contact with immunocompromised people, pregnant women and children under 12. Those considered to be at high risk of having caught monkeypox may have had household contact, sexual contact, or changed the person’s bedding without wearing the proper PPE.

The UKHSA also says they are being offered a smallpox vaccine. The advice comes after Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, warned that monkeypox is spreading through community transmission.

The agency has confirmed 20 cases in the UK so far. Dr Hopkins said updated figures for the weekend will be given on Monday as she warned of more cases “on a daily basis”.

The disease, first discovered 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 mostly identified in people who identify as gay or bisexual or men who have sex with men.

Speaking to BBC One’s Sunday Morning, Dr Hopkins said: ‘We’ll be posting updated figures tomorrow – figures for the weekend. We are detecting more cases every day and I want to thank everyone who comes forward to be tested at sexual health clinics, GPs and emergency services.

Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA's Chief Medical Adviser
Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s Chief Medical Adviser

When asked if there was community transmission in the UK, she replied: “Absolutely, we are finding cases that have no identified contact with an individual from West Africa, which we have seen previously in this country. Community transmission is largely centered in urban areas and we see it primarily among individuals who identify as gay or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men.

When asked why it is found in this demographic, she replied, “It is because of the frequent close contact they may have. We recommend anyone who regularly changes sexual partners or is in close contact with people they don’t know to come forward if they develop a rash.

When asked if people will need to be vaccinated, she replied: “There is no direct monkeypox vaccine, but we use a form of smallpox vaccine – a third grade smallpox vaccine. generation that is safe for people who come into contact with cases. We therefore do not use it in the general population.

“We use it in people who we think are at high risk of developing symptoms, and we use it early, especially within four or five days of developing symptoms. For contacts, (it) reduces your risk of developing disease, which is how we are focusing our vaccination efforts at this stage.

It comes as US President Joe Biden said recent cases of monkeypox that have been identified in Europe and the US are something “to be concerning”. In his first public comments on the disease, Mr Biden added: “It’s a concern in that if it were to spread it would have consequences.”

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