Monkeypox outbreak: More NI cases should be expected says Chief Medical Officer

The Chief Medical Officer has said he is fairly confident that Northern Ireland will see further monkeypox cases.

Professor Sir Michael McBride was speaking after the first case of the virus was confirmed here on Thursday, which he said was “not unexpected”.

In order to protect patient confidentiality, no further details about the new case are being disclosed.

Read more: Monkeypox Northern Ireland – first confirmed case in Northern Ireland

Monkeypox is usually associated with travel to West Africa and is usually a self-limiting virus that’s spread by very close contact with someone who has been infected.

The current risk to the population in NI is considered to be low due to the fact the virus does not spread easily.

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday afternoon, Sir Michael McBride said: “The Public Health Agency (PHA) is working closely with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and partner organizations across these islands in terms of identifying possible cases, probable cases, or indeed any contacts.

“The key messages are that this is not an infection which is readily spread between people but can be by close contact. The risk to the general population is considered to be low.”

He added: “Given the length of incubation period and the numbers of cases we have seen across the UK, Europe and globally, we will see more cases, of that there is no doubt.

“There will always be cases and indeed there are cases under investigation at this present moment in time. There is a very active process of contact tracing anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case and those cases will be actively followed up by the PHA .”

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A multidisciplinary incident management team (IMT) has also been established here to ensure that Northern Ireland is fully prepared for any potential risk to the population.

“We want to prevent this becoming established as an endemic infection in the UK because it isn’t at this time unlike parts of West and Central Africa,” Sir Michael added.

“We have a very good chance of doing that by taking all the steps that we currently are in terms of that co-ordinated public health response.”

The CMO added that he does not expect this new virus to impact on people’s daily lives in the same way as Covid-19.

“It is not as transmissible between people as some of the other common viruses. It is not a virus which is established in the UK or Europe at this time and we have a good chance ensuring that it doesn’t become established,” he said .

“That is about breaking chains of infection, actively following up cases and contacts. There is every possibility that we will be able to interrupt and contain this.

“However it is out and running a little bit ahead of us and we are now obviously having to play catch up given the fact that it is establishing itself and appearing in so many other countries.”

Dr Gillian Armstrong, head of health protection at the PHA, said officials have been working closely with health trusts and GPs to raise awareness of the disease, and setting up testing arrangements and clinical pathways.

Dr Armstrong said that most people who contract monkeypox would recover within a few weeks.

“It is spread through very close person-to-person contact, or contact with items used by a person who has monkeypox, such as bed linen,” she added:

“We have established a multidisciplinary incident management team here to ensure that we would be fully prepared for any potential or confirmed cases.

“We would like to urge anybody who thinks they might be at risk of exposure, particularly those who have developed an unusual rash or lesion on any part of their body, particularly the genital area, and especially those who have a recent new sexual partner, to limit their contact with others and to contact their GP.”

The PHA has also been working with community and voluntary groups including Rainbow to raise awareness of monkeypox symptoms and action to take if someone believes they have been at risk of exposure.

“A notable proportion of the cases so far have been identified in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. We are asking these people in particular to be aware of their symptoms,” Dr Armstrong said.

“We will be conducting contact tracing to identify any of those who might be high-risk contacts to be advised to self-isolate or who might be eligible for a vaccination to prevent them going on to develop the monkeypox disease.”

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

A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals.

The rash changes and goes through different stages – it can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab which later falls off.

Earlier this week, the UKHSA said people should isolate for 21 days if they have been in direct or household contact with a confirmed case.

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