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NI Public Health Agency confirms first case of monkeypox in Northern Ireland

More than a dozen countries across Europe have reported cases.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated May 26th 2022, 7:00 PM

NORTHERN IRELAND’S PUBLIC Health Agency has confirmed the North’s first case of monkeypox, it said in a statement today. 

The agency held a press briefing earlier today. It said that the confirmed case was not unexpected following the presence of monkeypox cases elsewhere in the UK.

To protect patient confidentiality, no further details relating to the patient will be disclosed, the statement said. 

The virus can be passed on through close person-to-person contact, or contact with items used by a person who has monkeypox, such as clothes, bedding or utensils. Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks.

Dr Gillian Armstrong, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Following the detection of cases of monkeypox in England the PHA has been in regular contact with UKHSA regarding the situation and we established a local multidisciplinary incident management team (IMT) to ensure that we are fully prepared for any potential risk to the population of Northern Ireland.

She added: “Cases of monkeypox are rare as the virus does not spread easily between people; therefore the risk to the Northern Ireland population is considered low.

“Appropriate public health actions are being taken and the PHA is working with UKHSA to investigate any potential links with UK cases and we will contact any potential close contacts to provide health information and advice.”

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) and is from the same family of as the smallpox virus but is clinically less severe.

Recently the virus has recently started spreading between people in places where this has not previously happened – namely in Europe and North America. 

In total, more than a dozen countries have confirmed cases of monkeypox with British health authorities saying that community transmission of the virus was now likely in the UK.

No cases have yet been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre

Dr Cillian de Gascun – Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory – said that he “wouldn’t be surprised at all” to see cases identified in the Republic.

However, the infectious disease expert said he expected it to be a small number.

Dr de Gascun stressed that traditionally monkeypox is not considered to be a very infectious virus – particularly compared to Covid-19.

“When people have looked at monkeypox over the years, the reproductive number is probably less than one on average. That doesn’t mean that human to human transmission can’t occur.

“But it means that generally speaking in the normal set of circumstances, we would expect this outbreak to decline over time,” De Gascun told RTÉ’s News At One programme.

There were no reported cases of monkeypox for 40 years before it re-emerged in Nigeria in 2017.

Monkeypox is not very infectious between people, with person-to-person infection possible through contact with bodily fluids and skin lesions of a monkeypox case.

Recently the virus has recently started spreading between people in places where this has not previously happened – namely in Europe and North America. 

In total, more than a dozen countries have confirmed cases of monkeypox with British health authorities saying that community transmission of the virus was now likely in the UK.

Symptoms and severity

Although the virus is only fatal in a small number of cases, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms for weeks and there is no cure for it. 

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Initial symptoms of monkeypox infection include a fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion.

Patients will also develop a rash, which starts on their face and spreads to the mouth, and raised red spots that develop into blisters within three days.

The virus is usually passed to people when they come into very close contact with rodents and primates.

Human-to-human transmission can occur among those who come into close physical contact with infected lesions, bodily fluids or recently contaminated materials like clothes or bedding.

Transmission can also occur via respiratory droplets though this usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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