At least 71 cases of monkeypox have now been reported in the UK. The spread is picking up pace but health officials have been quick to allay concerns about the viral infection, which primarily comes from Central and West Africa. If caught early enough, the symptoms can be treated and complications kept at bay.
Fortunately, the symptoms are very visible and so easily detectable, explained Doctor Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory.
According to the doc, “the almost universal appearance of the distinctive rash a day after an initial fever means patients are left in little doubt they have caught the virus”.
However, he also raised alarm bells about the current testing regime in the UK, which could result in cases slipping through the net.
Doctor Quinton said: “So far, there seems little need for UK-wide testing in the same way we did for Covid.
“That’s because monkeypox, though a serious disease, is not usually life-threatening and the characteristic rash is quite distinctive.
“Initial estimates put the risk of fatality from the strain of monkeypox present in the UK at around one percent, though it is obviously a painful, unpleasant disease that must be taken seriously.”
However, the doc explains, “if the virus does become of greater concern, widespread testing for it would present some challenges”.
According to Doctor Quinton, diagnostic PCR tests, which became well-known during the pandemic, may pose a logistical problem for containing monkeypox.
He said: “To detect the monkeypox virus, doctors also use a PCR test, taking samples of the fluid-filled blisters and scabs on the skin.
“The sample then goes to a lab, where testing is carried out to determine the presence of the monkeypox virus.
“At the moment, it is thought that such samples must be kept refrigerated, unlike Covid tests. That presents a logistical problem. Samples sent via the mail may not be useable.”
Equally troubling is that, “as a WHO-designated Risk group 3 pathogen, these samples need to be treated carefully”, explained Doctor Quinton.
The doc said: “The smallpox vaccine is thought likely to prove at least 80 percent effective against monkeypox as they are closely-related viruses.
“Here in the UK, we stopped regularly vaccinating against smallpox way back in 1971. Anyone under the age of 50 is unlikely to have been immunised.
“America’s Center for Disease Control says that where possible, only vaccinated people (i.e. smallpox vaccination within the past 10 years) should perform laboratory work that involves handling specimens that may contain monkeypox virus.
“It says non-immunised people must use increased personal protection equipment and improved practices should be followed to further reduce the risk of exposure.
“Obviously, this presents a problem for UK doctors, health workers and phlebotomists coming into regular contact with these PCR tests, the majority of whom will never have received a smallpox vaccination.”
The doc called for the widespread take-up of a “general health test” for anyone concerned about monkeypox, to ensure they are in overall good health to help fight the symptoms of new viruses.
London Medical Laboratory’s Health Profile Test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including vitamin D levels, diabetes (HbA1c), liver & kidney function, full blood count, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile.
It can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London, the southeast and selected pharmacies and health stores.
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