The UK is facing a “significant rise” in monkeypox cases over the next week, an expert has warned, with some health clinics stopping people walking in as they try to slow the spread of infections.
About 80 cases have now been confirmed across 12 countries – including 20 in the UK – with the majority of infections in Spain linked to a sauna in Madrid.
The president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) told Sky News that some clinic staff have received the smallpox vaccine, which can be effective against monkeypox, and talks are taking place about giving doses to “potential risk groups”.
Dr Claire Dewsnap said: “Our response is really critical here.
“There is going to be more diagnoses over the next week. How many is hard to say.
“What worries me the most is there are infections across Europe, so this has already spread.
“It’s already circulating in the general population. Getting on top of all those people’s contacts is a massive job.
“It could be really significant numbers over the next two or three weeks.”
Dr Dewsnap said she expected more monkeypox cases to be identified around the UK.
“I’m definitely expecting a significant rise over this next week,” she added.
Scientists baffled by monkeypox spread
Dr Dewsnap said she was concerned about the impact on other infections as staff are diverted to deal with monkeypox, when the “public health budget has decreased significantly over the last 10 years”.
“Some clinics that have had cases have had to advise people not to walk in,” she added.
“They’ve primarily done that because if somebody has symptoms consistent with monkeypox, we don’t want people sat in waiting rooms potentially infecting other people.
“They’ve implemented telephone triage to all of those places.”
Scientists say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America.
Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa.
But in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, US, Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously travelled to Africa.
The UK Health Security Agency has said a notable proportion of recent cases in Britain and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men.
Sauna linked to majority of Spain’s cases
There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases on Friday.
In Spain, 24 new cases were reported on Friday, mainly in the Madrid region where the regional government closed a sauna linked to the majority of infections.
To date, no one has died in the outbreak.
Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals.
The disease, which was first found in monkeys, can be transmitted from person to person through close physical contact and is caused by the monkeypox virus.
Professor David Heymann, an expert on infectious disease epidemiology at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There are two types of the virus. There is a virus in central Africa which is very lethal, it has 10% fatality and it causes a disease that looks like smallpox.
“Fortunately, that disease has not spread outside of Africa yet, and hopefully it won’t, because people are very sick and they don’t travel.
“The disease that is occurring in Europe and North America is a west African virus-type-strain which is very moderate, it causes skin rash, maybe one or two lesions on the skin, and it can cause a fever and swollen lymph nodes, swollen glands and muscle aches, but it is not fatal in most cases.
“It can be fatal in very less than one per cent of people, so it is not a fatal disease.”