PHA addresses concerns about monkeypox in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency has addressed widespread concerns about what monkeypox spreading across the UK could mean for the population here.

By Philip Bradfield
Monday, 23rd May 2022, 1:15 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd May 2022, 3:16 pm

The PHA said there are no confirmed cases of monkeypox in Northern Ireland. It is aware of the cases of monkeypox in England and is in regular contact with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) regarding the situation.

The UK has so far confirmed 20 cases of the infection, with the first case in Scotland confirmed on Monday.

A multidisciplinary incident management team (IMT) has been established in NI to ensure that we are fully prepared for any potential risk to the population of Northern Ireland.

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A monkeypox victim displays signs of the virus on their hand.

Dr Gillian Armstrong, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Monkeypox is usually a mild self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks.

“The infection can be passed on through close contact with someone with the infection, or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox.

“However, the virus does not usually spread easily between people and the risk to the Northern Ireland population is considered low.”

The PHA advises that anyone who thinks they have been at risk of exposure with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, should contact their local healthcare provider or GUM clinic without delay if they have concerns.

The PHA advises phoning ahead of visiting such a clinic.

“A notable proportion of recent cases in England and Europe have been found in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, so the PHA is particularly encouraging them to be alert to the symptoms and seek help if concerned,” the agency advises. “We can assure them their call or discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially.

“Clinicians should be alert to individuals presenting with rashes without a clear alternative diagnosis and should contact specialist services for advice.”

The initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion, the PHA advises.

A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals.

The rash changes and goes through different stages – it can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab which later falls off.

For further information on monkeypox see www.nhs.uk/conditions/monkeypox

To read the latest news from UKHSA on monkeypox see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/monkeypox-cases-confirmed-in-england-latest-updates

The PHA says that people likely to be at risk of exposure include, those who have had exposure to a confirmed or probable case in the 21 days before the symptoms appear. It also includes people who have travelled to an area where Monkeypox is endemic, or where there is a current outbreak in the 21 days before symptoms appeared - currently West and Central Africa, Spain, Portugal and USA. The last cateory of people are gay and bisexual people and men who have sex with men.

The Republic of Ireland has no known cases yet while Scotland has one. Twenty cases have been detetced in the UK as a whole.

Scotland has recorded the first case of monkeypox in the country, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has confirmed.

The person is “being managed and treated in line with nationally agreed protocols and guidance”, according to Dr Nick Phin, the medical and public health science director at PHS said on Monday.

Dr Phin described the risk to the public as low, but warned anyone with “blister-like sores” on their body to seek medical attention.

On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced 20 people in England had been confirmed to have the virus, with more expected.

The agency did not confirm details of the person being treated in Scotland, or where they were located, but said close contacts were being traced and would be given support, including the possibility of a vaccination against the virus.

Dr Phin said: “Public Health Scotland is aware of an individual in Scotland who is confirmed to have monkeypox.

“The affected individual is being managed and treated in line with nationally agreed protocols and guidance.

“We have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with such cases of infectious disease and these will be strictly followed.

“We are working with NHS Boards and wider partners in Scotland and the UK to investigate the source of this infection.

“Close contacts of the case are being identified and provided with health information and advice. This may include the offer of vaccination.”

He added: “The overall risk to the general public is low.

“Anyone with an unusual blister-like rash, or small number of blister-like sores on any part of their body, including their genital area, should avoid close contact with others and seek medical advice if they have any concerns.”

Initial symptoms of the virus include fever or high temperature; head, muscle and back ache; swollen lymph nodes; chills and exhaustion.

A blister-like rash or small number of blister-like sores can also develop, starting on the face but spreading across the body.

The rash changes throughout the infection, finally forming a scab which falls off within weeks.

Those with the virus are infectious between the time that symptoms start and when the last scab falls off, Public Health Scotland said.