If life couldn’t get much more bizarre, with COVID, ongoing wars, heatwaves across the globe, and Polio detected here in the UK, anyone would think the end of the world is nearing an end.
The news really has a way of driving a point home, and now, when tension is high, and people are tired of the bad news, up comes Monkeypox, but should we be concerned? Is this just another hard-hitting news item designed to put fear in the public, or should we be taking precautions to protect ourselves and our families?
Here’s what you need to know about Monkeypox
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys, hence its name; however, the original source has never been discovered. In fact, it appears more commonly in rodents, including squirrels and shrews.
Although many reports state the disease comes from Africa, it was first identified in a colony of Asian monkeys in a laboratory in Denmark.
Since 1970 when the first human monkeypox case was recorded, the disease has been reported in several countries, with the number increasing as international travel has grown. But why now are we concerned about monkeypox?
Why has monkeypox suddenly become a problem?
Scientists and data analysts are continuously monitoring diseases, viruses and foreign illnesses, not only to protect the human race from deadly pandemics but also to study how diseases spread, metamorphosise, and of course, practice prevention.
When we see risk vectors increase, it is in the public’s best interest to inform them about the risks – This is the best practice to prevent spread. But, one would have to wonder, what if we were never told? How dangerous would it be if we just carried on without the information? Could we have seen many more COVID deaths if we weren’t asked to wash our hands to the tune of happy birthday or wear masks indoors? The answer is, yes – it would have been much worse than it was.
Why are the Monkeypox reports currently aimed at the GBMSM population?
Data currently shows a disproportionate number of cases in gay men. In a recent NEJM abstract (New England Journal of Medicine) they reported on a study population of 528 infections, in which they found 98% of infected patients identified as gay or bisexual, and in 95% of cases, the infections were thought to have been sexually transmitted. The most common presentation was rash (95%) and systemic illness (fever, myalgia etc)
MPX spreads through respiratory droplets, close or direct contact with skin lesions and contaminated fomites (shared bedding towels etc.) There is no clear evidence yet of sexual transmission through sexual or bodily fluids.
It isn’t clear why there are currently more infections noted in GBMSM populations, but it is possible that those in the gay community are more likely to have regular testing for STIs and therefore tip the balance when reporting cases of monkeypox. Of course, we cannot judge the data on unreported cases, but there may be a much larger number of cases than we will ever know about. In fact, given the large number of cases reported in the last few weeks, it is likely that it has been spreading for months, something we should consider when analysing the data.
Prevention is better than cure, with any disease and virus, be that sexually transmitted, through contact or respiratory droplets. We always advise you get vaccinated as well as reduce your risk by practising the following –
- Until more widespread vaccination is available, it would be sensible to reduce your number of sexual partners
- Use protection during sexual intercourse
- Wash your hands regularly and carry hand sanitiser
- Avoid crowded places with poor ventilation
- Continue to wear your mask indoors and on public transport
In specific cases of monkeypox, to prevent transmission, you must –
- Avoid close contact or sex with someone diagnosed with monkeypox or a suspicious rash
- Avoid contact with clothes, towels and bedding of someone who’s been diagnosed with MPX
- Wear a mask if indoors
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Monkeypox, you should treat it the similar way COVID was treated. Self-isolate at home and avoid coming into contact with those you share a home with, including your pets.
Symptoms of monkeypox
You could be infected with monkeypox for 7 -28 days before symptoms occur; these include –
- Typical pox type skin rash (lesions can also be ano-genital or even in the mouth)
- A high temperature
- Enlarged lymph nodes everywhere
- muscle aches
The rash that appears with monkeypox is much like and is often confused with chickenpox. In most cases, the rash appears first on the face and spreads down the body, including the genitals and inside the rectum/anus, in some cases. In fact, most of the rash presentations in MSM males have been inside the anus and misdiagnosed or even completely missed
The rash will first appear as bumps or raised spots that fill with liquid and become blister-like. Eventually, they will burst and scab over.
It is important to remember that, as with chickenpox, these spots and the fluid they contain will make you highly contagious. It is very important to avoid scratching them or popping them. Wash your hands often and avoid putting your dirty laundry in the wash with others in your household.
The monkeypox vaccine
Although there is no such thing as a “monkeypox vaccine”, monkeypox itself is caused by a similar virus to smallpox. Therefore we can use the same vaccine to prevent both diseases.
The smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox; as with most vaccines, being vaccinated may not fully protect you from becoming infected, so the other precautions are still important.
Having the vaccine will reduce your symptoms, should you still catch it. The full vaccination course should ideally consist of 2 vaccinations for those who are clinically vulnerable.
Please get vaccinated if you –
- Are part of the LGBTQIA+ community
- have multiple sexual partners /attend sex on premises venues
- If you are clinically vulnerable/immunocompromised
- Have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox
- A health care professional that works closely with people with MPX
- A laboratory worker who works with or around animals with orthopoxviruses
Where to get Monkeypox Vaccination?
Currently, the vaccine is only available through the NHS and pop-up clinics (Guys Hospital, Guys and St Thomas STI clinics, Mortimer Marketa in Dean Street/ChelWest)
Due to limited supply, the UKHSA currently only advises the vaccine for the following groups:
- Healthcare workers
- Gay, Bi or MSM population
- People who’ve had close contact with someone diagnosed with Monkeypox (vaccination should ideally be done within four days of the contact)
You can also check you are up to date and request other vaccines, including polio and other travel vaccinations.
From next week self-test MPX kits will be available to order. These are posted out to patients who self-swab and send directly to the lab. Results can take up to three days.
Although we are discussing Monkeypox and the threat remains high, the actual risk here in the UK is currently low; nevertheless, it is highly recommended that you seek medical prevention and take precautions while going about your day-to-day activities. A quick trip to the doctors and a little awareness can keep you healthy and fit. The same is also said for any other routine medical prevention, including keeping your’s and your family’s vaccines up to date.
We are still at the early stages here in the UK, and the data is still coming in; regardless of how this virus evolves, take control of your health and reduce the risk today.
Our Friday nurse-led clinic is very popular for routine vaccinations as you can make same-day appointments. If you require a walk-in or a same-day appointment, call ahead of time, and we will ensure you are seen as soon as possible.
Children’s vaccinations are also available. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for any childhood vaccine enquiries and check the stock, updated prices and suitability of vaccination.
Please note – all new patients bringing a child for vaccination will require proof of ID and address and relationship to the child.