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UK is stockpiling ‘thousands’ of monkeypox vaccines and drugs as experts fear dozens of infections are slipping under radar
- Majority of UK’s nine cases not linked, suggesting virus spreading more widely
- Drug watchdog is ‘speedily’ trying to secure medicines to treat contagious virus
- Health officials tell MailOnline ‘thousands’ of vaccine doses have been secured
Britain is stocking up on thousands of monkeypox vaccines and treatments amid fears that the current spate of cases is the tip of the iceberg.
Nine Britons have been diagnosed with the contagious disease so far and the majority of cases are not linked, suggesting it is spreading more widely.
Britain’s drug watchdog told MailOnline it was monitoring the outbreak and ‘working with companies to speedily bring forward suitable treatments for monkeypox’.
Health chiefs also revealed to MailOnline they have bought thousands of vaccine doses are already deployed them to close contacts of infected Britons.
Antiviral drugs and jabs designed to target smallpox have cross-over protection against monkeypox, with the two viruses genetically very similar.
The latest outbreak has been described as ‘unusual’ by experts because person-to-person transmission of monkeypox was thought to be extremely rare.
Six of Britain’s cases are in gay or bisexual men, which officials say is ‘highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks’.
Cases have also been announced in the US, Spain and Portugal, making it the most widespread monkeypox outbreak to date. Canada also has suspected cases.
Nine Britons have been diagnosed with monkeypox and all but one of them appear to have contracted it in the UK. The original UK patient had brought the virus back from Nigeria, where the disease is widespread. At least three patients are receiving care at specialist NHS units in London and Newcastle
Britons who have been in close contact with monkeypox cases are being given an off-label vaccine known as Imvanex (file)
There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January
Monkeypox can kill up to one in ten people who get it but the new cases have the West African variant, which is deadly for around one in 100.
Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.
A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals.
The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.
A vaccine, known as Imvanex, was approved in 2013 in the UK to treat smallpox, but studies have since shown it is 85 per cent effective at preventing monkeypox.
It is not approved for monkeypox in the UK but health professionals can use it ‘off-label’.
Imvanex is already being offered to close contacts of positive cases and medics treating cases ‘based on their risk factor.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘We have taken active steps to be prepared for further cases of monkeypox in the UK and have secured thousands of doses of vaccines that are effective against monkeypox which are being used to protect key healthcare workers and at-risk individuals who may have been exposed.’
There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January.
A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) told MailOnline: ‘There is no approved vaccine or medicine for monkeypox in Great Britain.
But they added: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely and working with companies to speedily bring forward suitable treatments for monkeypox.’
Six of the UK’s nine cases are based in London, with two in the South East of England and one in the North East.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s public health regional director, said it the outbreak in the capital continues to grow then the rollout of vaccines and treatments could be broadened to more groups.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we see more cases and it continues to spread then there are plans in place to ensure we have more antiviral agents in place to deal with that.
‘We’re watching closely to see how this spreads over the next week or two and then we’ll get a better sense of how to project and plan for the month ahead.’