Monkeypox — a close relative of smallpox — is a viral disease typically contracted from animal bites or the consumption of improperly cooked meat, but that can spread from person-to-person by close contact. Initial symptoms of infection can include chills, fatigue, fever, and muscle aches — with more severe cases often presenting with a rash on the face and genitals that can spread elsewhere on the body before scabbing over. The virus is known to cause severe disease among certain vulnerable groups, including young children, people who are immunosuppressed and pregnant women.
The UKHSA issued the updated guidance today as monkeypox case numbers in England jumped by 71 — bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the UK to 179.
Previously, those with a suspected or confirmed case of the disease were advised to either call NHS 111 or seek advice from their GP.
The UKHSA said: “People with possible, probable or confirmed monkeypox should avoid contact with other people until their lesions have healed and the scabs have dried off.
“Cases can reduce the risk of transmission by following standard cleaning and disinfection methods and washing their own clothing and bed linen with standard detergents in a washing machine.”
The new recommendations were agreed by all four of the UK’s public health agencies — including the UKHSA, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and Public Health Agency Northern Ireland.
The UKHSA continued: “Cases should also abstain from sex while symptomatic, including the period of early symptom onset, and while lesions are present.
“Whilst there is currently no available evidence of monkeypox in genital excretions, as a precaution, cases are advised to use condoms for 8 weeks after infection and this guidance will be updated as evidence emerges.
“If people with possible, probable or confirmed monkeypox infection need to travel to seek healthcare, they should ensure any lesions are covered by cloth and wear a face covering and avoid public transport where possible.
“Contacts of someone with monkeypox will also be risk assessed and told to isolate for 21 days if necessary.”
The UKHSA has also recommended that, where possible, healthcare workers who are pregnant or severely immunosuppressed should avoid contact with patients with a suspected or confirmed case of monkeypox.
Based on a risk assessment conducted separately by the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group, people infected with monkeypox have been advised to try to avoid contact with any pets, their bedding and litter for 21 days.
As the UKHSA explained; “Where possible pets should be cared for by someone else in the same household.
“If this is not possible, then infected individuals should minimise their contact with their pet as much as possible, and practise good hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly before and after contact.”
However, they added, “the risk of a case infecting a pet is low”.