Monkeypox: Halting the spread

Since the first case of monkeypox was reported in the UK earlier this year, we have seen an increase in transmission within sections of the community.

Monkeypox is a rare infection most commonly found in West or Central Africa. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the organisation in England responsible for public health and infectious diseases, has been monitoring the number of cases and the spread of monkeypox since it was first detected in the UK. While the most recent data suggests the growth of the outbreak has slowed, we continue to see new cases every day. But while anyone can get monkeypox, the risk of catching it remains low.

To limit or halt the spread of the disease, the UKHSA proposed the rollout of a pre-exposure vaccination programme targeting individuals who are most at risk of exposure. However, a shortage of the vaccine globally has caused a delay to the rollout, with doses currently being reserved to protect those most at risk.

Mark Cummings, who hosts BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s breakfast show, invited Sexual Health and HIV Consultant Dr Ayo-ola Okunwobi-Smith onto his show this Tuesday (16 August) to talk about the monkeypox outbreak. When asking Ayo-ola if we should be worried about the virus, she replied: “It’s not something we should worry about; it’s something we should be aware about.

“The reason we need to be aware is so we can halt the spread in the community. We’ve found the main individuals affected by the monkeypox virus in the UK to be 99% men – in particular, men who have sex with men, or who recognise themselves as gay or bisexual. Therefore, we are targeting this group of people to limit or halt the spread of the disease, so awareness in this group of people is very important.”

As monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to smallpox, the smallpox (MVA) vaccination is being offered to those most at risk to prevent or reduce the severity of the monkeypox infection.

Ayo-ola, a consultant at Hope House, the sexual health service for Gloucestershire, talked about the vaccination programme, explaining: “We had actually started vaccinating people at Hope House, but there is a limited supply of the MVA vaccine. Initially, one dose is being offered to those at highest risk.

“As more vaccine supplies become available, more people will be offered the first dose of the vaccine. Additional supplies are expected in early October, and those next in line will be offered the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.”

Anyone who may have come into contact with someone who has monkeypox, is feeling unwell, or has symptoms that could be consistent with monkeypox infection, should limit their contact with others and telephone the national helpline on 0333 242 3672, or Hope House Sexual Health Clinic on 0300 421 6500.

For further information about monkeypox, as well as the services available at Hope House Sexual Health Clinic and Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) visit the Hope House website.

A recording of Ayo-ola’s BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview with Mark Cummings is available on the BBC Sounds website for the next 27 days – listen from 1 hour, 46 minutes and 20 seconds.

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