LONDON ( Associated Press) — British health officials say they have identified four “rare and unusual” cases of monkeypox disease among men who appear to have been infected in London and who had no travel history to African countries where the similar illness to smallpox is endemic.
In a statement issued on Monday, Britain’s Health Security Agency said an investigation had been launched into how the men became infected and whether they had any links to each other. Three of the men are in London and one is in the northeast of England. All of them say they are homosexual, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
Last week, Britain reported three previous cases of monkeypox, including two people who lived in the same household and another who had previously traveled to Nigeria, where the disease is endemic in animals.
“The evidence suggests there could be community transmission of monkeypox virus, spread by close contact,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at Britain’s Health Security Agency. “We especially urge gay and bisexual men to be vigilant for any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service as soon as possible.”
Monkeypox is a viral disease that is usually spread by touching or being bitten by infected wild animals, such as rats or squirrels, in West and Central Africa. The disease does not usually spread easily between people, but the British health authorities maintain that it could occur if there was very close contact with an infected person.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease.
British authorities said that, due to the recent rise in cases and uncertainty about how monkeypox is being transmitted, they are working with hospitals and international partners to find out if there has been a similar rise in cases elsewhere. Public health experts say doctors treating patients who develop rashes “without a clear alternative diagnosis” should seek specialist advice.
They indicated that the risk to the general population is low and that infected patients were receiving specialist care in London and Newcastle. Authorities are tracing people who came into contact with the monkeypox cases, including airline passengers.
Initial symptoms of this condition include fever, muscle pain, chills, and fatigue. In the most severe cases, a rash can appear on the face and genitals, similar to that of chickenpox and smallpox. Most people recover in several weeks.