Monkeypox is the latest infectious disease of concern globally, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a ‘global health emergency’ on 23 July. As of 25 July, there were 2,367 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK, and it has now been confirmed that vaccines are starting to be rolled out in Bristol and surrounding areas.
The disease has now spread to more than 70 countries, including the UK, and is related to but distinct from the viruses that cause smallpox and cowpox. Whilst infection is mild for many, it can cause hospitalisation and death in some cases.
Symptoms include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and rashes or lesions, and usually patients get better within three weeks – and a full list of symptoms can be found here. The NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB) has now confirmed with Bristol Live that some vaccinations for monkeypox have now begun to be administered in Bristol and surrounding areas.
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Monkeypox can spread when a person comes into close contact with an infected animal or infected human, or as a result of close contact with material, such as bedding, contaminated with the virus. Whilst it is not a sexually transmitted disease, most cases of monkeypox in 2022 have been found in gay or bisexual men, or men who have sex with men.
A spokesperson for NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: “We have vaccinated small numbers of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In the coming weeks, we are rolling out pre-exposure vaccination to eligible people, at clinics across the area.
“When we are able to offer this vaccine, people will be invited to get their vaccinations. If you are invited to get the vaccine, we recommend you take the offer as soon as you are able.”
Whilst the main vaccination sites have not yet been confirmed for Bristol, vaccination is currently recommended for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. It is also recommended for frontline health and care staff who are at the greatest risk, and those who have been in close contact with a confirmed monkeypox case.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recommends a selective vaccine strategy for monkeypox at this time. This means that only a subset of individuals that are at increased risk should be offered the vaccine.
Vaccines that have been developed for smallpox are considered effective protection for monkeypox, as the viruses are closely related – this means that smallpox vaccines are being offered as a result. The UKHSA has reported that some immunological response to a first dose can be seen within two weeks.
In Europe, this is the first time transmission has occurred without known epidemiological links to West or Central Africa, heightening the cause for concern. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is working closely with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to prevent further cases and limit the spread.