A patient is treated in a specialist unit in London after being diagnosed with monkeypox, a rare viral infection.
The person had recently traveled to Nigeria, where he is believed to have contracted the disease, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Saturday. They are being treated in an isolation ward at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Infectious Diseases Unit.
Although monkeypox can be spread through close contact with an infected person, the agency said it didn’t spread easily and most people recovered within a few weeks.
As a precaution, the UKHSA said its experts were working closely with the NHS and would be contacting those who may have had close contact with the person, including some passengers who were on the same flight.
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Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue. A rash can also develop, which usually starts on the face and then spreads to other areas of the body. The rash goes through various stages until it forms a scab that falls off.
dr Colin Brown, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA, said: “It is important to emphasize that monkeypox does not spread easily between humans and the overall risk to the general public is very low.”
He added: “UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious diseases and these are strictly followed.”
dr Nicholas Price, Director of the NHSE High Consequence Infectious Diseases (Airborne) Network and Adviser on Infectious Diseases in Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “The patient will be subject to strict infection prevention procedures in our specialist isolation unit at St Hospital.”
The NHS said the infection could be spread from infected wild animals in parts of west and central Africa and is thought to be carried by rodents.
Only a few people in the UK have been diagnosed with monkeypox, all of whom had either traveled to West Africa or been in close contact with someone who had.
According to information from Public Health England (the agency replaced by UKHSA last year), monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when outbreaks of a ‘smallpox-like disease’ were detected in captive monkeys for research. The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Since then, most cases have been reported from the DRC and Nigeria, but there have also been a handful of cases further afield.
In 2003, cases in humans and prairie dogs were recorded in the US after rodents were imported from Africa.
In December 2019, a patient in England was diagnosed with monkeypox, which was the fourth case diagnosed in the UK since the first imported cases the year before, according to PHE. There have also been cases in Israel and Singapore.
This article was amended on 7 May 2022 to clarify that Public Health England was replaced by the UKHSA in 2021.