Dr Gillian Armstrong, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Following the detection of cases of monkeypox in England the PHA has been in regular contact with UKHSA regarding the situation and we established a local multidisciplinary incident management team (IMT) to ensure that we are fully prepared for any potential risk to the population of Northern Ireland.
“The PHA has been working closely with Trusts and GPs to raise awareness of the disease, and set up testing arrangements and clinical pathways.
“Cases of monkeypox are rare as the virus does not spread easily between people; therefore the risk to the Northern Ireland population is considered low.
“Appropriate public health actions are being taken and the PHA is working with UKHSA to investigate any potential links with UK cases and we will contact any potential close contacts to provide health information and advice.”
The monkeypox virus can be passed on through close person-to-person contact, or contact with items used by a person who has monkeypox, such as clothes, bedding or utensils. Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks.
Suspected and confirmed cases should self-isolate for 21 days. People identified as having the closest contact will be recommended to self-isolate for 21 days from last contact with the case. Those with the closest contact to the case will be offered vaccination with the smallpox vaccine, to offer them protection.
Initial symptoms of monkeypox 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 – it can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab which later falls off.
Anyone who thinks they have been at risk of exposure with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, or particularly if they have recently had a new sexual partner, should limit their contact with others and should contact their GP or GUM clinic without delay if they have concerns. Please phone first ahead of a visit to a healthcare facility.
A notable proportion of recent cases in England and Europe have been found in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, so the PHA is particularly encouraging them to be alert to the symptoms and seek help if concerned. We can assure them their call will be treated sensitively and confidentially. The PHA has been working with community and voluntary groups including Rainbow to raise awareness of monkeypox symptoms and action to take if you think you have been at risk of exposure.
Visit www.gov.uk/guidance/monkeypox for more information.