Monkeypox is a “particularly nasty virus” and it is “important we get it under control” – but it only poses a “very low” threat to the wider public and is not likely to bring disruption in the way COVID has, a health expert has told Sky News.
Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, Dr Michael Head, told Kay Burley a vaccine already exists for monkeypox and stressed he was “not concerned” about the risk the virus presents.
He said: “There’s a lot of community transmission, so that’s concerning. It is a particularly nasty virus, but I think I would stress at this point it’s not COVID – infectious diseases do behave very differently.
“The outbreak, it’s important we get it under control, but we are not likely to see anything on the scale of what we’ve seen with COVID-19 these last two years.”
Asked why most of the cases in the UK are among gay and bisexual men, Dr Head said: “So that’s presumably where the index case was – the first case.
“Monkeypox requires very close contact to transmit, this can be via respiratory aerosols, often it’s also via skin-to-skin contact, so the very notable blisters and rashes you get as a skin presentation, you can transmit via touching those. So I think the sexual networks we’re seeing here, the transmission is taking place within those sexual networks, but it’s important we don’t stigmatise these communities but of course we do need to raise public health awareness.”
He said that “threats to the wider general public are very low”.
“From that perspective, I am not concerned. It is a nasty virus – if you have been exposed, that is more of a concern.
“But to most people it won’t be impacting upon their daily lives like COVID-19 has.”
He said an existing vaccine can be used against monkeypox, including in the early stages of infection.
“The smallpox vaccine is also protective against monkeypox as well. Even if you’re infected, if it’s given very early in infection, then it still provides some use,” Dr Head added.
“Again, the difference with COVID-19 is that we have these tools – we also have existing knowledge on how to stop monkeypox outbreaks.
“So smallpox vaccine may be used here in the UK – I think other countries have recommended routinely using it for cases and exposed contacts as well.”
Contacts of monkeypox cases with the highest risk of exposure should self-isolate for 21 days, according to latest government guidance.
This includes no travel, providing details for contact tracing and avoiding direct contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and children under 12.
Those who are considered at high risk of having caught monkeypox may have had household contact, sexual contact, or have changed an infected person’s bedding without wearing appropriate PPE.