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US monkeypox fears as six Americans are ‘monitored’ after sharing flight with UK’s ‘patient zero’

Health officials are keeping tabs on six Americans for potential monkeypox infection after they shared a flight with a British patient who tested positive for the virus.

The individuals sat within a three-row radius of the Brit on a nearly seven-hour flight from Nigeria to the UK on May 4. He later became the country’s first confirmed case.

Dr Jennifer McQuiston, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told STAT News the U.S. patients would be monitored for 21 days.

A total of 12 cases have been confirmed in Europe so far in the global outbreak, with 24 people being probed for the virus across the UK, Portugal and Spain.

Infections are more common in central and west Africa, where they generally result from direct contact with infected animals.

But the virus can also be spread via direct contact with infectious lesions in the skin, or from the coughs and sneezes of someone with a monkeypox rash.

Up to one in 10 cases are fatal, but the strain spreading globally is milder and thought to have a fatality rate of about one in 100 — similar to Covid’s at the start of the pandemic.

A total of 12 cases of monkeypox have been spotted outside West Africa in the global outbreak so far, with others being probed. There are seven in the UK, eight in Spain and five in Portugal. Most are linked to men who have sex with other men

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which causes unusual rashes or lesions (shown in a handout provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which kills up to one in ten of those infected but does not spread easily between people. The tropical disease is endemic in parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions (file photo)

McQuiston warned the CDC is considering issuing another health alert — similar to that for the hepatitis outbreak — for medical professionals.

She added that a number of cases in the UK appear to be linked to sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men, likely due to contact with infectious lesions in the skin. 

‘There’s a lot of travel between the U.K. and the United States and other global area,’ she said. 

What is monkeypox viral infection?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which people usually pick up in the tropical areas of west and central Africa.

It is usually spread through direct contact with animals such as squirrels, which are known to harbour the virus.

However, it can also be transmitted through very close contact with contagious skin lesions on an infected person — such as during sex.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

But its most unusual feature is a rash that often begins on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body, commonly the hands and feet.

The rash changes and goes through different stages before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

How deadly is it?

Monkeypox is usually mild, with most patients recovering within a few weeks without treatment. Yet, the disease can prove fatal.

Monkeypox kills up to 10 per cent of people it infects.

However, with milder strains the fatality rate is closer to one in 100 — similar to when Covid first hit.

What are the treatment options?

There are no specific treatments available for monkeypox infection.

However, because monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, jabs for smallpox can also protect people from getting monkeypox.

One vaccine, Jynneos, also known as Imvamune or Imvanex, has been licensed in the U.S. to prevent monkeypox.

The jab is about 85 percent effective.

‘So I think our concern is that given that you do have four cases among men who have sex with men, that we probably need to be thinking about messaging to our STI clinics … about what to be on the lookout for, what to be alert for.’

America detected a case of monkeypox last year in a man who travelled from Nigeria to Texas.

The individual — who has not been named — was hospitalized with the virus, but later discharged.

The case led to the CDC monitoring more than 200 individuals for the virus in 27 states and other countries.

McQuiston warned the UK’s cases could well be just the tip of the iceberg.

‘You have two clusters that have no link to travel or to other people who are known to be associated with a recognized outbreak,’ she said.

‘It suggests that there are unknown chains of transmission happening.

‘If there appears to be unknown chains of transmission, it just puts us on alert to be thinking: Could this be spreading outside the U.K.?’

In Britain, only one case has travel links back to Nigeria, where they likely caught the virus.

Two cases and one probable infection are linked to a family unit, while the other four cases have been detected in gay or bisexual men.

There is no connection between the groups and no suggestion that they had contact with the traveler, suggesting there may be an ‘unknown’ chain of transmission.

In Europe, Portugal has spotted five cases of the virus and is probing another 15 with all infections among mostly ‘young’ men. It is not yet clear how they caught the virus.

Spain is probing eight people — all gay and bisexual men — for the virus. 

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection normally linked to tropical areas in western and central Africa.

It tends to be spread through direct contact with animals such as squirrels, which are known to harbor the virus, but can also be passed on through very close contact with an infected person.

Although not normally sexually transmitted, it is also possible for it to be passed on during sex through direct contact with contagious lesions in the skin. 

Only a handful of cases have been reported outside of Africa, and they are normally confined to people who have travelled to the continent.

People who catch the virus may suffer a fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

More unusual symptoms include a rash that often begins on the face before spreading to other areas of the body.

Infections are normally mild, with most patients recovering within a few weeks.

But in some cases it can turn deadly with one strain killing up to 10 percent of people it infects. 

There is no specific treatment for infections with the virus but because of its close relationship to smallpox jabs against this disease provide some protection.

One vaccine — Jynneos — has been licensed to prevent monkeypox infections in the U.S. 

The virus’ similarity to smallpox means jabs and drugs against it are also effective.

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