Monkeypox cases surge to more than 2,000 in England as health officials issue new guidance

Microscope image of the monkeypox virus

Confirmed monkeypox cases have surged to more than 2,000 in England, officials have said, but isolation guidance for close contacts is being scrapped.

As of Monday (18 July), there are now 2,137 confirmed monkeypox cases in the UK, with  2,050 detected in England.

On the same day as the latest figures were released, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced that it had updated guidance for close contacts of confirmed cases.

Until this week, category two and three close contacts were advised to self-isolate until they had been tested.

But the UKHSA has now said that, in line with advice from the WHO, other European countries and the CDC, close contacts will not need to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms.

The agency explained that the change was a response to the latest data, which has shown that “a relatively small number of close contacts have gone on to develop monkeypox”.

Now, guidance states that if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of monkeypox, you should avoid skin to skin contact with others such as hugging and kissing,
refrain from sexual or intimate contact, avoid international travel if possible, and
let health or dental facility staff know before attending an appointment.

For category three, or high risk, contacts, guidance states that they should avoid contact with people who are pregnant, under five years old, or who have compromised immune systems.

Anyone who develops symptoms should contact NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic.

Dr Merav Kliner, deputy incident director at the UKHSA, said: “We have now passed over 2,000 confirmed cases of Monkeypox in the UK, and the outbreak continues to grow.

“Based on the growing evidence of how the monkeypox virus is being passed on in this outbreak, close contacts will no longer have to isolate for 21 days unless they develop symptoms… Thank you to all contacts who have isolated already in response to this outbreak.

“We understand that isolation can be difficult but this was a necessary precaution whilst our knowledge of the outbreak was limited.”

The UK has purchased 100,000 further doses of the monkeypox/ smallpox vaccine

To date, the UK has acquired nearly 30,000 doses of a smallpox vaccine called Imvanex which has proven effective in preventing monkeypox as the two viruses are so similar.

On Tuesday (19 July), the UKHSA said that it had purchased a further 100,000 doses of the vaccine.

There are currently three groups of people eligible for vaccination against monkeypox.

The first group is gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, who are at the highest risk of coming into contact with monkeypox.

The second group includes those who are likely to be exposed to monkeypox because of their work, for example those who work at sexual health clinics, in the sex industry or in saunas.

The third is those requiring post-exposure vaccination, either because they were exposed to the virus by a close contact, or exposed to it at work.

The NHS is currently contacting those who are eligible for a monkeypox vaccine.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement: “Monkeypox is a rare and usually mild disease that does not spread easily between people, but we are taking action to help further manage the outbreak in the UK by procuring over 100,000 additional doses of vaccine.

“The NHS is already contacting those eligible for the vaccine, and I would urge people to take up the offer as soon as they are contacted. In the meantime, please contact a sexual health clinic if you notice any unusual rashes or lesions.

“I am hugely grateful to the fantastic sexual health staff and 111 call handlers for working hard to keep the current outbreak under control.”

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, added: “These additional doses mean that we are in an even stronger position to bring the current monkeypox outbreak under control, ensuring those most likely to acquire the virus are protected from infection.”