Britain reports two separate cases of rare monkeypox infection

LONDON (Reuters) - Two people in Britain have been diagnosed with a rare viral monkeypox infection in separate cases thought to be linked to travel to West Africa, health authorities said on Tuesday.

Public Health England (PHE) said the second case, in a person who had recently travelled to Nigeria, was being treated at an expert respiratory infectious disease centre in Liverpool, northern England.

The first case, also in someone who had been in Nigeria, was diagnosed last week in Cornwall in the southwest of England and is being treated in London.

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that does not spread easily from person to person. The virus is similar to human smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980. Although monkeypox is much milder than smallpox, with most infected people recovering within a few weeks, it can in rare cases be fatal.

Nick Phin, deputy director of the national infection service at PHE, said the monkeypox virus was likely to be circulating in Nigeria after a large outbreak there in 2017, and could therefore affect travellers returning to Britain.

"However, it is very unusual to see two cases in such a relatively short space of time," he said in a statement. "We are working hard to contact individuals, including healthcare workers, that might have come into contact with (the patients) to provide information and health advice."

Health officials said all necessary precautions were being taken by specialist staff in clinics where patients were being cared for, and said there was currently no risk to other staff, patients or visitors.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)