Following announcements made by the UK Health Security Agency on 7, 14, 18 and 20 May, I am writing to inform the House that (as of 12pm on Monday 23 May 2022) a total of 56 Monkeypox cases, in 3 unlinked incidents, have now been confirmed in the UK. Further cases have been identified worldwide, outside the endemic regions of West and Central Africa.
Monkeypox virus in the UK is extremely rare and the detection of Monkeypox in unlinked cases indicates community transmission. Prior to May 2022, there were three previous domestically acquired cases – two household transmissions related to an imported case and one healthcare worker related to a separate imported case.
In the coming days, I expect that further cases will be detected by the UK Health Security Agency’s expert diagnostic capabilities, working with NHS services to ensure heightened vigilance among healthcare professionals.
The UK was the first country in the world to identify and report this recent emergence of non-endemic cases to the WHO, who continues to receive reports of further cases in other countries across the globe.
The infection can be passed on through direct contact with Monkeypox skin lesions or scabs; contact with clothing or linens (such as bedding or towels) used by an infected person; and potentially by close respiratory contact via coughing / sneezing by an individual with a Monkeypox rash. Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex. A notable proportion of cases have been among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
The virus does not usually spread easily between people without close contact and the risk to the UK population remains low.
World leading experts at the UK Health Security Agency, working in partnership with health protection agencies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, are providing the latest scientific, clinical, and public health advice. They are also providing testing capability at the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory at UKHSA Porton Down and have stood up additional capacity at UKHSA Colindale. They continue to contact trace, rapidly investigate the source of these infections, and raise awareness among healthcare professionals. Any close contacts of the cases are being identified and provided with health information and advice.
UKHSA, and its partner public health agencies in the devolved administrations, will continue to keep the scientific and clinical evidence under review to ensure that decisions are made on the best available evidence despite the fast-moving situation.
Individuals, especially gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, who develop an unusual rash or lesions (such as scabs) on any part of their body, but particularly their genitalia, should contact NHS 111 or a sexual health service. Individuals should notify clinics ahead of attendance and avoid close contact with others until they have been seen by a clinician. They can be assured that discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially.
UKHSA has set up a dedicated helpline to support clinicians dealing with Monkeypox cases.
Vaccination and treatment
The smallpox vaccine, Imvanex (MVA-Bavarian Nordic), although not specifically licensed for the prevention of Monkeypox in Europe, has been used in the UK in response to previous incidents. This vaccine has a good safety record; it is made from a smallpox-related virus that cannot replicate and has been demonstrated to be highly effective at preventing infection (when given within 4 days of exposure) and reducing severe illness (if given between 4 and 14 days of exposure).
The vaccination of named close contacts of cases is underway, with vaccine eligibility being kept under close review. As of 10am on 23 May 2022, over 1,000 doses of Imvanex have been issued or are in the process of being issued, to NHS Trusts. There remain over 3,500 doses of Imvanex in the UK.
We are also exploring procurement options in case any specific antiviral treatment is shown to be effective against this virus; further details will be provided in due course.
I can confirm to the House that it will be kept abreast of updates as the situation evolves.