A prominent doctor has warned that monkeypox is having a “tremendous impact” on access to sexual health services in the UK.
Dr Claire Deusnap, chair of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, has expressed concern about how viral infections are affecting services as staff who come into contact with infected people are forced to isolate.
She told the BBC that clinic staff were already under a lot of pressure before they were identified with monkeypox. “It’s already straining the workforce and it will have a massive impact if employees are forced to isolate if they have been in close contact with an infected person,” she said.
As of Friday, there were 20 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK, and nine other countries outside Central and West Africa have also reported outbreaks.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, and it can be passed from person to person through close physical contact.
“In terms of infection and its consequences for individuals, I am not concerned, but I am concerned about our ability to maintain good sexual health services and access for everyone while continuing to manage this new infection,” Dewsnap told BBC Radio 4:
She called for “adequate funding” for sexual health services that she said had been subject to cuts in their budgets over the past decade, adding that the ability to see people quickly was important when dealing with infections.
She told BBC Breakfast: “Over the past 10 years there has been a significant reduction in funding through the public health budget and that has seen a direct impact on the level of employment and that means we have less ability to see people.”
“We used to be able to see people within 48 hours of they contacting us – which is really important because it closes the window where people get infected. [while] They don’t know they have an infection and so can pass it on to people.
“So the speed at which we see people is really critical, and coming monkeypox shows us that more than ever.”
Appropriate funding means that they can “ensure that people get there quickly, so we can reduce the risk of other people getting infected,” she said.
Meanwhile, Professor Sir Peter Horby, director of the University of Oxford’s Institute of Epidemiology, described the outbreak of monkeypox as an “extraordinary case” because the virus is transmitted within communities outside Central and West Africa.
“It is transmitted by direct contact between people, and in the past we have not seen that it is highly contagious,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“What’s unusual about what we’re seeing now is that we’re seeing community transmission in Europe and now in other countries, so it’s an unusual situation where we seem to have been exposed to the virus but we now have sustained transmission within certain communities.”
He added: “There appears to be an element of sexual transmission, perhaps only through very close contact between people and skin lesions, because a large proportion of current cases are detected in gay and bisexual men.
“So it’s very important that we get the message across that if people have unusual skin lesions, they get attention quickly so we can get it under control.
“The important thing is that we are interrupting transmission and that has not been demonstrated in humans in Europe.”
The UK’s Health Security Agency said infection can be transmitted through “close contact or contact with the clothing or linens used by a person with monkeypox”.
However, she added, the virus does not usually spread easily between people and that the risk to the UK population “remains low”.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue.
The rash can develop, often starting on the face, and then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals. Then the rash changes and goes through various stages – and can resemble chickenpox – before eventually forming a crust that later falls off.
According to the NHS, symptoms are usually mild and resolve within “two to four weeks”, although severe cases can sometimes occur.
The UK government has said it is stockpiling smallpox vaccines to help protect against monkeypox.