The UK is stocking up on thousands of monkeypox vaccines and other treatments amid fears that the current spate of cases is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nine people have been diagnosed with the contagious virus so far. As the majority of cases are not linked, it is believed that the virus is spreading more widely.
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The UK’s drug watchdog said it was monitoring the current outbreak and ‘working with companies to speedily bring forward suitable treatments’.
The Mail Online reports: Antiviral drugs and jabs designed to target smallpox have cross protection against monkeypox, with the two viruses genetically very similar.
The latest outbreak has been described as ‘unusual’ by experts because person-to-person transmission of monkeypox was thought to be extremely rare.
Six of Britain’s cases are in gay or bisexual men, which officials say is ‘highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks’.
Cases have also been announced in the US, Spain and Portugal, making it the most widespread monkeypox outbreak to date. Canada also has suspected cases.
Monkeypox can kill up to one in ten people who get it but the new cases have the West African variant, which is deadly for around one in 100.
Initial symptoms 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, and can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.
A vaccine, known as Imvanex, was approved in 2013 in the UK to treat smallpox, but studies have since shown it is 85 per cent effective at preventing monkeypox.
It is not approved for monkeypox in the UK but health professionals can use it ‘off-label’.
Imvanex is already being offered to close contacts of positive cases and medics treating cases ‘based on their risk factor’.
Monkeypox has an incubation period of up to 21 days, which is why positive cases and their contacts are being made to isolate for three weeks.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘We have taken active steps to be prepared for further cases of monkeypox in the UK and have secured thousands of doses of vaccines that are effective against monkeypox which are being used to protect key healthcare workers and at-risk individuals who may have been exposed.’
The Imvanex jab has been used to treat close contacts of monkeypox cases since 2018, when a small number of cases were detected with travel links to Africa.
Imvanex contains a modified form of the vaccinia virus, which is similar to the family of viruses that cause smallpox and monkeypox but does not cause disease in people.
Because of its similarity to the pox viruses, antibodies produced against this virus offer cross protection.
There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January.
A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) told MailOnline: ‘There is no approved vaccine or medicine for monkeypox in Great Britain.’
But they added: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely and working with companies to speedily bring forward suitable treatments for monkeypox.’
Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s public health regional director, said if the outbreak in the capital continues to grow then the rollout of vaccines and treatments could be broadened to more groups.
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