Monkeypox is a “particularly nasty virus” and it’s “important that we get it under control” – but it poses only a “very low” threat to the general public and is unlikely to disrupt the way COVID has, a health expert told Sky News.
Senior global health researcher at the University of Southampton, Dr Michael Head, told Kay Burley that a vaccine already exists for monkeypox and stressed that he was “not concerned” about the risk that presents the virus.
He said: “There’s a lot of community transmission, so that’s concerning. It’s a particularly nasty virus, but I think I would stress at this point that it’s not COVID – infectious diseases behave very differently.
“The outbreak, it’s important that we get it under control, but we probably won’t see anything on the scale of what we’ve seen with COVID-19 over the past two years.”
Asked why most cases in the UK have been in gay and bisexual men, Dr Head said: “So that’s probably where the index case was – the first case.
“Monkey pox requires very close contact to be transmitted, it can be via respiratory aerosols, often also via skin-to-skin contact, so the very noticeable blisters and rashes you get as a presentation skin, you can transmit them by touching them So I think about the sexual networks that we see here, the transmission takes place within these sexual networks, but it’s important not to stigmatize these communities, but of course we have to raise awareness the public to health.
He said “threats to the general public are very low”.
“From that perspective, I’m not worried. It’s a nasty virus – if you’ve been exposed, that’s more concerning.
“But for most people, it won’t impact their daily lives like COVID-19.”
He said an existing vaccine can be used against monkeypox, including in the early stages of infection.
“The smallpox vaccine also protects against monkeypox. Even if you are infected, if given very early in the infection it is still useful,” Dr Head added.
“Again, the difference with COVID-19 is that we have these tools – we also have existing knowledge on how to stop monkeypox outbreaks.
“So the smallpox vaccine can be used here in the UK – I think other countries have recommended using it routinely for exposed cases and contacts as well.”
Contacts of monkeypox cases at highest risk of exposure should self-isolate for 21 days, according to the latest government guidelines.
This includes banning travel, providing details for contact tracing and avoiding direct contact with immunocompromised people, pregnant women and children under 12.
Those considered to be at high risk of having caught monkeypox may have had household contact, sexual contact, or changed bedding of an infected person without wearing proper PPE.