Monkeypox continues to spread in the UK while current efforts are insufficient to contain the outbreak.
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there have been 1,552 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the UK related to the outbreak since 7 July.
While anyone can get the virus because it’s spread through close or intimate contact, most cases so far have been among gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM). Within England, most cases were in London.
There are few signs of infections spiraling out of control, with the latest UKHSA estimates suggesting the number of cases is doubling every 15 days.
†[There is] no evidence that current strategies are likely to end this anytime soon,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, noting that while the overall number of cases continued to rise, the number of new infections could increase. have reached a plateau.
The concerns came when a whistleblower working on a UKHSA monkeypox inquiry line said it had a host of issues, including providing little support for people who don’t have confirmed contacts with cases – i.e. someone whose name has been provided to contact to be recorded with tracers by a person with monkeypox.
The Guardian has seen scripts showing that even if someone calls because they are afraid they have had contact with a confirmed case, they are told their risk is very low if they have not been formally identified as a contact. The whistleblower said it made little sense if a caller said a sexual partner has monkey pox symptoms.
In addition, the whistleblower said call handlers were not allowed to suggest callers contact a sexual health clinic unless the caller brought up sexual health. They added that some clinics had disabled their phone lines.
The UKHSA has rejected the claims, saying the telephone line is an additional service to provide non-clinical advice to the public.
dr. William Welfare, the agency’s incident director, said specialized public health teams followed up all cases quickly to limit transmission, with contacts rated as high-risk vaccination.
“Contact tracing is often based on contact sharing for a large number of sexual contacts, so can inevitably be difficult when confidentiality is also taken into account. We quickly implemented a high-quality public health operation with sexual health services to research and combat monkeypox and to support those affected,” Welfare said.
“Monkeypox is mainly spread by very close contact, most prominently through relatively closed sexual networks, and has not been found routinely in the wider population. The prevalence of infection in general in the UK and therefore the risk to the general public currently remains low.”
Vaccination is a smallpox shot that also protects against monkeypox. The UKHSA recently announced it would expand vaccination eligibility to some gay and bisexual men who are at higher risk of exposure to the virus, even if they had no confirmed close contact with a case.
The UKHSA confirmed there was a ready supply of vaccine, with nearly 30,000 doses obtained, but said the NHS had not yet announced plans to roll out the vaccine.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is working with local partners to identify and invite those who qualify for a vaccination to apply, and in the coming weeks the number of clinics will grow rapidly to make it as quick and easy as possible to get vaccinated to become.
“After advice from the UKHSA, the NHS will continue to prioritize vaccination for those at greater risk, including health professionals in specialist functions and clinics where exposure to Monkeypox is highest.”
But Hunter said an even broader approach may be needed. “I think wider vaccination of high-risk MSM — people who often have multiple contacts — and perhaps female sex workers are the way forward,” he said. “We may not have enough vaccine to do this, but I think there could be a reason to offer a vaccine to anyone who attends an STI [sexually transmitted diseases] clinic.”