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Can you die from monkeypox? Symptoms of the virus explained and how dangerous infection can be

The i 20/05/2022 Alannah Francis

On May 7, it was announced that a case of monkeypox had been identified in the UK.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has since confirmed a total of nine cases of the rare infection across the country.

The first case was identified after an individual who had recently returned from Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted monkeypox, presented with symptoms.

The outbreak has prompted concern but the UKHSA has said the risk to the general public is very low.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease closely linked to smallpox that was first discovered in monkeys in 1958.

In 1970, the first human case was recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is widely known for causing a chickenpox-like rash that usually appears first on the face before spreading to other areas of the body.

How serious is it?

Monkeypox is usually mild and most people who contract it recover within two to four weeks.

However, in some cases it can result in severe illness. Historically it has a fatality rate of between 0 to 11 per cent among the general population, with fatalities higher among young children, according to the World Health Organisation.

In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3 to 6 per cent.

How does it spread?

Monkeypox can be contracted from infected wild animals, including rodents, rats and mice, in parts of west and central Africa.

Humans can catch the infection if they are bitten by an infected animal or if they touch its blood, body fluids, spots, blisters or scabs.

It spreads between humans through close contact with an infected person – or by touching the clothing, bedding or towel used by someone with the virus.

People with monkeypox can also transmit it through coughing or sneezing.

It has not previously been categorised as a sexually transmitted disease but it can be passed on during sex.

How common is it?

In the UK, the risk of catching monkeypox is very low but the current outbreak has prompted the UKHSA to ask people to be vigilant of the symptoms of infection.

As of 16 May, a total of 14 monkeypox cases have been reported in the UK since 2018, nine of which have been reported in May 2022.

The NHS has said people in the UK are “extremely unlikely” to have monkeypox if they do not have any of the symptoms and have not recently travelled to west or central Africa or been in close contact with someone who has the virus.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

A high temperature, a headache, muscle aches and back ache are among the first symptoms that appear in a person with monkeypox.

Swollen glands, shivering and exhaustion are also among the signs that first appear.

Roughly one to five days after the initial symptoms occur, a rash that starts off as raised spots and then turns into small blisters appears.

The rash can be confused with chickenpox.

Symptoms tend to dissipate within a few weeks.

How is the Government responding to the outbreak?

The UKHSA and the NHS are investigating where and how recently recorded cases have occurred.

They have advised everyone, and gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men in particular, to be on the lookout for any unusual rashes or blister-like lesions.

The Government has bought stocks of smallpox vaccine to help prevent the spread of monkeypox, the BBC has reported. There is not a vaccine created specifically for monkeypox, due to its similarities with smallpox.

A spokeswoman from the UKHSA told the BBC: “Some individuals with higher level of exposures are being offered this smallpox vaccine. We have proactively procured further doses of these vaccines.”

The Government has advised anyone who believes that they may be infected with monkeypox to contact NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic, notifying clinics of their concerns ahead of their visit.

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