Just three days after announcing the first diagnosed case of monkeypox in the UK, Public Health England has released a statement confirming the second case. They emphasize that there does not appear to be a connection between the two patients, despite the suspect timing.
Monkeypox is a rare yet typically non-dangerous infection caused by a virus native to Central and West Africa. As its name suggests, the monkeypox virus is closely related to those that cause smallpox, cowpox, and horsepox. And like they do with other members of the Orthopoxvirus genus, monkeypox infections in humans onset with the characteristic flu-like symptoms of fever, headache, muscle pain, chills, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. In some people, the hallmark symptom of a rash of raised, fluid-filled sores may develop.
Yet unlike the extremely contagious smallpox virus, monkeypox does not readily spread from person to person, and the body can usually clear the infection on its own in two to five weeks.
The first patient tested positive last week after falling ill at a naval base in Cornwall, and has since been transferred to the infectious disease unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London. It is believed that the unidentified individual contracted the virus in their home country of Nigeria before they traveled to the UK. Monkeypox is known to have a wide-ranging incubation period of anywhere between five and 21 days, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and transmits chiefly through direct contact with infected animals.
The second patient initially presented to the Blackpool Victoria Hospital and was transferred to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital after testing positive at the beginning of this week. According to the latest update, this individual had also recently been in Nigeria.
"We know that in September 2017 Nigeria experienced a large sustained outbreak of monkeypox and since then sporadic cases have continued to be reported,” stated Dr Nick Phin, the deputy director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England. "It is likely that monkeypox continues to circulate in Nigeria and could, therefore, affect travellers who are returning from this part of the world.”
He added that although the overall risk to the general public is very low, it is odd that two cases arose in such a short period of time.
“We are working hard to contact individuals, including healthcare workers, that might have come into contact with the individual[s] to provide information and health advice.”
Dr Michael Jacobs, clinical director of infection at the Royal Free Hospital, said: “We are using strict isolation procedures in hospital to protect our staff and patients."
The recent outbreak in Nigeria – the first since 1978 – resulted in 172 suspected and 61 confirmed cases (across 14 states) between September and December 2017. Investigations into the disease’s sudden reemergence are ongoing.
For most individuals, vaccination against the smallpox virus will also prevent monkeypox.