Britain says people infected with monkeypox can isolate at home

Britain's health security agency indicated community transmission was occurring in the country. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - People infected with monkeypox can isolate at home if they remain well enough, whilst following measures to limit close contact with others, the UK's health security agency (UKHSA) said on Monday (May 30), as part of fresh guidance designed to curb the rise in cases of the viral illness in the country.

There have been 71 additional cases of monkeypox identified in England, the agency said on Monday, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the United Kingdom as a whole since May 7 to 179.

More than 300 suspected and confirmed cases of monkeypox - a usually mild illness that spreads through close contact and can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions - have been reported in May, outside of Africa where the virus is endemic.

Scientists are looking into what might explain the unusual surge of cases, given most are not linked to travel.

The UKHSA on Monday indicated community transmission was occurring in the UK and that infected people should avoid contact with others until their lesions have healed and the scabs have dried off.

Infected people can limit the risk of spread by using standard cleaning and disinfection methods, and washing their own clothing and bedlinen with detergents in a washing machine, the agency advised.

In addition, infected people should abstain from sex as soon as symptoms appear - and while there is currently no available evidence of monkeypox spreading via genital excretions, people infected with the virus are advised to use condoms for eight weeks after infection as a precaution, the agency added.

The highest risk of transmission is through direct contact with someone with monkeypox - but the overall risk to the UK population remains low, said Ruth Milton, senior medical advisor and monkeypox strategic response director at UKHSA.

The agency, which is offering a vaccine to close contacts of cases, has procured more than 20,000 doses of a smallpox vaccine made by Bavarian Nordic. The smallpox and monkeypox viruses are closely related.

Managing risks

The UKHSA recommended that healthcare staff working with confirmed and suspected cases wear personal protective equipment, including gowns, eye protection and gloves.

The vaccine will now also be offered to healthcare workers involved in the care of patients with confirmed monkeypox and staff working in sexual health services who have been identified as assessing suspected cases.

Meanwhile, in settings such as adult social care, prisons and homeless shelters, patients should be managed in a single room with separate toilet facilities. The risk of a case infecting a pet is low, the agency added.

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