Australian expert fears UK monkeypox outbreak could spread across borders

‘It’s certainly a serious viral infection once it’s broken out and it would be very difficult to screen for it,’ a senior Australian professor said

Thomas Kingsley
Wednesday 18 May 2022 12:45 BST
Comments
Australian health authorities have warned about monkeypox cases entering the country
Australian health authorities have warned about monkeypox cases entering the country (Getty Images)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

A breakout of monkeypox in the UK risks the rare disease spreading to Australia, an expert has warned.

Seven cases of monkeypox have now been identified between 6 and 15 May in the UK, the first of which involved a person who had recently returned from Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted the infection.

Urgent investigations are underway by UK health authorities seeking to establish links between the latest infected individuals who are gay or bisexual and appear to have contracted the virus in London, UKHSA said.

Australian medics have reportedly been told to watch out for symptoms which can be confused with less dangerous conditions like chickenpox, measles, syphilis or shingles. Concerns have been raised the disease could enter the country through international travellers arriving in Australia from the US, UK or Africa.

“Human mobility within and across national borders is in many ways a critical factor in all of this,” Sydney's Macquarie University emeritus professor Peter Curson told Daily Mail Australia. “It really would only take one or two cases and given the tremendous amount of travel around the world now, it's quite possible we could see it in Australia,” Professor Curson added.

One in ten people infected with monkeypox dies from the rare disease which leaves victims covered in painful blisters and rashes
One in ten people infected with monkeypox dies from the rare disease which leaves victims covered in painful blisters and rashes (Getty Images)

“It's certainly a serious viral infection once it's broken out and it would be very difficult to screen for it. We really do not fully understand what it is, how it is or what we should do.

“We're really not fully apprised of how to control it or what drugs to use, or indeed, perhaps, to recognise some of the symptoms early on.”

Prof Curson added that the vast movement of people around the world and the fact individuals can show no symptoms after being exposed, would make controlling the spread of the virus “very difficult.”

Monkeypox does not spread easily between people and currently poses a low risk to the general public, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says. However, one in ten of those infected dies from the disease, which leaves victims covered in painful blisters and rashes.

Due to the sudden rise in UK cases and uncertainties around where some of the individuals contracted the virus, health officials from UKHSA are working with the NHS to identify if any infections have been missed in recent weeks. International health agencies are also being contacted to see if a similar increase in cases has been recorded in other countries.

People without symptoms are not considered infectious but those who have been in close proximity to the affected individuals are being contacted to ensure that, if they do become unwell, they can be treated quickly, the agency added. Contacts of two of the four new cases have so far been identified by UKHSA.

The seven people diagnosed with monkeypox in the UK have been infected with the west African variant of the virus, which is mild compared to the central African strain, health officials said on Monday.

There is no cure for the virus. Symptoms typically start to appear between five and 21 days after exposure, while most people recover from the illness within a matter of weeks.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in