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Health agency confirms community spread of monkeypox in England

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Test tubes labeled “Monkeypox virus positive” are seen in this illustration taken May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) – Monkeypox appears to be spreading from person to person in England, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Wednesday.

The usually mild viral disease, which is endemic in West and Central Africa, is believed to be spread through close contact. Until early May, cases rarely appeared outside of Africa and were usually linked to travel to that region.

“The current outbreak is the first time the virus has been transmitted from person to person in England where travel links to an endemic country have not been identified,” the agency said.

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According to the UKHSA, the majority of UK cases – 132 – are in London, while 111 cases are known to be gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). Only two cases concern women.

Recent overseas travel to a number of different countries in Europe within 21 days of symptom onset has been reported by 34 confirmed cases, or around 18% of the 190 cases of the disease that have been confirmed by the UK to May 31.

So far, the UKHSA has identified links to gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in Britain and abroad.

“Investigations are continuing but currently no single factor or exposure that links the cases has been identified,” the agency warned.

Monkeypox can affect anyone, but many of the newer diagnoses are in the GBMSM community – many of whom live in or have links to London, said Kevin Fenton, London’s regional director of public health.

“As with any new outbreak, the risk of stigma and uncertainty is great,” he said.

UKHSA works with groups such as the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV and dating app Grindr to communicate with sexual health services and the GBMSM community. He also encourages LGBT event organizers Consortium and Pride to help with messaging in the coming weeks.

Monkeypox typically causes flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions that usually go away on their own within weeks, but can kill a small fraction of those infected.

British health authorities are offering Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine, Imvanex, to contacts of confirmed or suspected cases.

Cases of monkeypox continue to rise outside of Africa, mainly in Europe, and scientists are trying to determine the reasons for the spread.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said it had so far received reports of more than 550 confirmed cases of the viral illness from 30 countries outside Africa.

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Reporting by Natalie Grover in London; Twitter @NatalieGrover Editing by Mark Potter and David Gregorio

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