(Photo: ArtistGNDphotography via Getty Images)
Monkeypox cases in the UK have shot up to 302 as of Sunday, and experts are urging people to take further precautions to protect themselves from the virus.
There are now 1,019 confirmed and suspected infections worldwide, reported across 29 different non-endemic countries with the most found in the UK so far.
Spain has the second highest number of cases at 198, Portugal follows with 153 and Canada with 80.
The risk to the general public is still low and monkeypox is not expected to have anywhere near the wider impact of Covid. It is mild, with symptoms (fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion and a skin rash) typically wrapping up within two to four weeks.
However, the virus – usually endemic to countries in West and Central Africa – has been transmitted much further than experts predicted and they are still finding out more about this particular issue.
Here’s the latest three developments, explained.
Monkeypox symptoms on a patient's hand (Photo: Getty Images via Getty Images)
1. The US has detected two new strains
The outbreak was initally thought to have originated from a West African strain of the virus. This is less severe compared to other monkeypox strains, and has a lower fatality rate at 1%.
However at least two genetically distinct monkeypox variants are circulating around the US at the moment, where only 30 cases have been confirmed.
“When they’re similar to each other, their genetic analysis shows that they’re not linked to each other,” the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deputy director Jennifer McQuiston said.
She suggested that the two differing strains probably originate from different occasions where the virus was transmitted from an animal to a human in Africa.
Both then spread via person-to-person contact into the general population, but no deaths have been reported from the virus so far in the US and all patients are in recovery or have recovered.
The CDC is analysis these cases further to understand transmission.
2. Experts believe it was going undetected for a while
The World Health Organisation recently said that it believes the virus could have been transmitting undetected within non-endemic countries for “weeks, months or possibly a couple of years”, but on a small scale.
Virology professor Marc Van Ranst, from the University of Leuven in Belgium, told NBC News: “I think nobody believes this jumped out of Africa a couple of weeks ago.”
Others suggest that because it has been transmitted through the close contact that usually comes with sexual encounters, it may have been misdiagnosed as a sexually transmitted infection, delaying correct diagnosis.
A photo of monkeypox lesions (Photo: via Associated Press)
3. The UK will classify monkeypox as a notifiable disease
From Wednesday June 8, the UKHSA will list monkeypox as a “notifiable disease”.
The gov.uk website explained: “This means all doctors in England are required to notify their local council or local Health Protection Team (HPT) if they suspect a patient has monkeypox.
“Laboratories must also notify the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) if the monkeypox virus is identified in a laboratory sample.”
What’s the advice from doctors globally?
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has released new guidance taking its alert level up to 2 (level 3 means caution against non-essential travel).
It urges all travellers to “practise enhanced precautions”, and to:
Avoid close contact with ill people, including those with skin lesions or genital lesions
Avoid contact with sick or dead animals, or live wild animals including rodents and non-human primates
Avoid eating or preparing meat from wild game or using products derived from wild animals
Anyone with skin rashes or lesions which can’t be explained should avoid contact with others and seek medical help
Avoid contact with contaminated materials used by sick people (including clothing, bedding or materials used in healthcare settings)
The UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) has encouraged that monkeypox contacts should self isolate and receive the smallpox vaccine to prevent furthering the spread of the virus.
These individuals are being asked to self isolate for 21 days too, and avoid contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and children aged under 12.
UKHSA chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said: “Alongside reports of further cases being identified in other countries globally, we continue to identify additional cases in the UK. Thank you to everyone who has come forward for testing already and supported our contact tracing efforts – you are helping us limit the spread of this infection in the UK.
“Because the virus spreads through close contact, we are urging everyone to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service if they have any symptoms.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.