Britain urges people with monkeypox to abstain from sex as cases rise

Test tubes labeled “Monkeypox virus positive and negative” are seen in this illustration taken May 23, 2022.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

British health authorities have urged anyone who tests positive for the monkeypox virus to abstain from sex until their symptoms resolve.

In nine advice published on Mondaythe UK Health Security Agency has also recommended that previously infected people continue to use condoms for a period of eight weeks after the virus has passed, as a precautionary measure.

The health agency said the risks to the general public remain low, but encouraged people to contact a medical professional if they notice any unusual rashes or lesions.

The advice comes after Britain recorded another 71 cases of the virus over the weekend, taking the UK total to 179 less than a month after its first case emerged May 7.

The UK now has the highest number of monkeypox cases among non-endemic countries, followed by Spain with 120 and Portugal with 96.

From Monday there was 555 confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox in countries outside of Africa, according to Our World in Data.

Increasing risks of sexual transmission

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease commonly found in Central and West African countries. Symptoms include skin rashes, fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling and back pain.

Although the virus is usually mild and usually clears up on its own within two to four weeks, health experts have expressed concern over the recent spike in cases in countries where monkeypox does not usually spread and to the increasing risks of community transmission.

The majority of cases to date have been spread through sexwith a particular concentration of cases occurring among gay and bisexual communities and men who have sex with men, according to the World Health Organization.

A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, which had been infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification on day four of the rash developing skin in 1968.

CDC | Reuters

The public health body said on Monday it was not yet clear whether the recent outbreak could lead to a global pandemic but said there is currently a window of opportunity to curb the rise in cases.

“Collectively, the world has an opportunity to stop this epidemic. There is a window,” Rosamund Lewis, WHO technical lead for monkeypox, said during a briefing.

The WHO also said it is currently reviewing whether the outbreak should be assessed as a “Potential Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Such a statement was made for the Covid-19 and Ebola outbreaks, and would allow for additional research and funding to contain the disease, he noted.

What to do if you catch monkeypox

If you think you have contracted monkeypox, you should isolate yourself from physical contact with others and seek immediate medical attention.

Initial symptoms monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling and back pain. Rashes and lesions then usually appear on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth or genitals in one to five days. These rashes turn into raised bumps and then blisters, which may fill with white fluid before breaking up and forming scabs.

Many symptoms of the virus can be easily confused with other illnesses, such as chickenpox, herpes or syphilis, however, medical confirmation is important.

If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, UK guidelines is that you will have to self-isolate until the virus has passed. Close contacts of someone with monkeypox may also be risk assessed and asked to self-isolate for 21 days.

The illness is usually mild and most people recover in two to four weeks. Although medical advice currently varies from country to country, the UK’s National Health Service notes that you may need to stay in a specialist hospital to prevent the infection from spreading to other people.

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