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Monkeypox Found In The UK For The First Time

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

The rare African disease has made its way to the UK

Photo by Hush Naidoo (unsplash)
by Tab Gerry

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus that is most commonly found in West and Central Africa. It was first seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. Patients who have monkeypox can vary in condition. For most individuals, the symptoms are mild and resemble chickenpox, including a headache, fever, rash, and aches. In more severe cases it can lead to death. This is a common occurrence in Africa with the number of cases to casualty ratio being up to 1 in 10.


The first case of monkeypox in the UK occurred on the 8th of September this year in a patient who is believed to have contracted it whilst in Nigeria.

Whilst monkeypox is not highly contagious and is unlikely to spread to the public, health services in England have reached out to those most likely to have been in close contact with the patient, such as those who were in the airplane with him. The first patient was being treated in Cornwall and then moved to the Royal Free Hospital in London that specialises in the treatment of infectious diseases. A second patient was found in Blackpool on the 13th of September, also after spending some time in Nigeria. They are now both being treated in an infectious disease clinic in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. A third patient has also been identified, isolated and is undergoing treatment in the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle.


Whilst the consequences of monkeypox can be severe, the risk of even catching it can be greatly reduced. By avoiding time spent with rodents and primates and avoiding contact with blood and uncooked meat, the chances of catching monkeypox are very low. Monkeypox resembles chickenpox and will clear up on its own after a few weeks. However, vaccination against smallpox has been proven to be 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, and thus the patients are being vaccinated against smallpox to reduce the risk of spreading. People who treat monkeypox sufferers are vaccinated with the smallpox vaccine as the similarities between the two mean that any transfer of the disease will result in a milder form. The smallpox vaccine, however, has not been available to the general public since the eradication of smallpox in 1980. This is thought to be one of the first uses of the smallpox vaccine since then.


A field study is currently being conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the first instance of smallpox occurred.

The disease is thought to be most prevalent there and has one of the highest infection rates. The field study aims to test whether a vaccine for monkeypox itself would be a valuable asset in fighting this disease. Nigeria had one of the biggest outbreaks in September in 2017 and sporadic cases have continued to appear.


While this may sound alarming, experts say we are not at the brink of a national outbreak. According to Public Health England, the risk to the public is low, however it is important to continue to monitor the rates to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines are produced and to help prepare health services.

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