First Case of Monkeypox in the UK

Peter Russell

September 10, 2018

The first case of monkeypox has been recorded in the UK.

The diagnosis was made in a Nigerian national staying at a naval base in Cornwall who probably contracted the infection before travelling to the UK.

As a precautionary measure, Public Health England (PHE) said it was working closely with NHS colleagues and would be contacting people who might have been in close proximity to the individual to provide information and health advice. This would include a number of passengers who travelled on the same flight to the UK.

"PHE and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be strictly followed to minimise the risk of transmission," said Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of PHE's National Infection Service.

Central and Western African Countries

Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research. The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and since then the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries.

In 2018 in Africa, monkeypox cases have been reported from Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Nigeria.

Mainly Animal to Human Transmission

Humans may be infected by monkeypox when a person comes into close contact with an infected animal, frequently rodents, or materials contaminated with the virus. 

Monkeypox does not spread easily between people, but infection is possible through contact with clothing, bedding or towels, direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs, and coughing or sneezing by an individual with a monkeypox rash.

The virus enters the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes.

The incubation period for monkeypox is between 5 and 21 days.

Monkeypox infection is usually a mild self-limiting illness and most people recover within several weeks. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals. Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed within 1 to 5 days by a rash, which often starts on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash eventually forms a scab that later falls off.

A clinical diagnosis of monkeypox can be problematic because it is often confused with other infections such as chickenpox.

PHE did not reveal the identity of the patient, although it has been widely reported that the individual is a Nigerian naval officer.

Expert Care

Following diagnosis, the individual was transferred to the expert infectious disease unit at the Royal Free Hospital, London.

Dr Michael Jacobs, clinical director of infection at the Royal Free Hospital, said: "Monkeypox is, in most cases, a mild condition which will resolve on its own and have no long-term effects on a person's health. Most people recover within several weeks."

He added: "It does not spread easily between people and the risk of transmission to the wider public is very low. We are using strict isolation procedures in hospital to protect our staff and patients."


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