Pets could be culled to protect from monkeypox under ‘last resort’ guidelines drawn up by health officials.
A cull could be ordered for hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs if they are unable to be isolated, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) admitted.
Rodents have been identified as carrier of the disease in west and central Africa.
The ECDC said it is ‘theoretically possible’ that people in Europe could pass on monkeypox to their domestic pets, which could then act as a reservoir and transmit it back to humans.
A cull could be ordered as the last resort for hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs if they are unable to be isolated
UK records TWELVE more monkeypox cases: Outbreak toll hits 90 as virus finally reaches Wales and Northern Ireland
Another 12 monkeypox cases were detected across the UK yesterday as the tropical virus usually only seen in Africa continues to sweep the world.
UK Health Security Agency bosses confirmed cases have hit 90, after England logged eight more infections and Scotland spotted another two. Wales and Northern Ireland also declared their first cases.
Officials stated the ‘majority’ have occurred among gay and bisexual men but didn’t provide an exact breakdown. No gender or age details have been shared, either.
Despite the rising cases, health chiefs have insisted the risk to the population ‘remains low’.
However, the UKHSA has asked the public, especially men who have sex with men, to be alert to any new rashes or lesions on any part of their body.
Nineteen countries across the world – mainly in Europe – have now detected the smallpox-like virus over the past three weeks. At least 265 infections have been spotted worldwide.
Infections are usually only detected sporadically outside of west and central Africa, where the virus is endemic in animals. Imported outbreaks have always fizzled out naturally after a few cases.
UKHSA’s chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said new monkeypox cases were being spotted ‘promptly’ due to ‘extensive surveillance and contact tracing networks’. The agency is considering an online dashboard which tracks case numbers — a method which sparked controversy during the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes as experts today warned Britain is not prepared to embark on a mass monkeypox vaccination scheme if the current outbreak continues to spiral. The UK has around 5,000 jabs and has ordered 20,000 more.
Close contacts are the only group being offered the jab. But leading scientists have suggested the next step could involve a rollout to gay and bisexual men, given a ‘notable proportion’ of cases are among that community.
Some scientists have suggested that the virus may have been spreading silently in the UK since 2018, and that the current flare-up may have actually taken off ‘by chance’ after entering ‘the population that is at present amplifying transmission’.
Ministers are expected to tell those with an unusual rash — a tell-tale sign of monkeypox — to stay away from their pets. Experts have raised alarm that spread to cats, dogs and other pets may allow the virus to become endemic among animals in Britain.
The report states: ‘Currently, little is known about the suitability of European peri-domestic (mammalian) animal species to serve as a host for monkeypox virus.
‘However, rodents, and particularly species of the family of Sciuridae (squirrels) are likely to be suitable hosts, more so than humans (see disease background), and transmission from humans to (pet) animals is theoretically possible.
‘Such a spill-over event could potentially lead to the virus establishing in European wildlife and the disease becoming an endemic zoonosis.’
The ECDC noted that the likelihood of this spill-over is ‘very low’, however.
But it said national health authorities should work with veterinary experts to ensure there is a sufficient testing capacity to swab and quarantine pets which have been exposed to monkeypox.
The agency said exposed rodent pets should be isolated in monitored facilities and tested again before their quarantine ends.
These pets should only be killed ‘as a last resort’ if there is no testing or isolation capacity, the report states.
Mammalian pets, such as cats and dogs, can be isolated at home if there is a suitable outdoor space and a vet can check on them, the ECDC said.
The same report told European countries to draw up an inoculation strategy to control the spread of the tropical virus.
The disease, first discovered in lab monkeys in the late 1950s, is usually mild but can cause severe illness in some cases. It can kill up to 10 per cent of people it infects.
The milder strain causing the current outbreak kills one in 100 — similar to when Covid first hit.
Monkeypox has an incubation period of anywhere up to 21 days, meaning it can take three weeks for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.
A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, which then spreads to other parts of the body — including the genitals. The rash can look like chickenpox or syphilis, and scabs can form which then fall off.
UK health officials are contacting high-risk contacts of confirmed cases and advising them to self-isolate at home for three weeks and avoid contact with children.
They are also being offered the Imvanex vaccine to form a buffer of immune people around a confirmed case to limit the spread of the disease. The strategy, known as ring vaccination, has been used in previous monkeypox outbreaks and is also being carried out in some EU countries.
Outside of the UK, Spain has logged the most infections, with 84 so far being confirmed and another 55 people being tested.
The outbreaks have been traced to a gay sauna in Madrid and a Gran Canaria pride festival attended by 80,000 people from Britain and other European countries.
News of the suspected Fuerteventura case follows warnings by chief medical advisor Dr Susan Hopkins for people to be ‘alert to the virus’ on holiday.
Dr Hopkins, of the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), told the BBC: ‘The risk to the general population remains extremely low.
‘People need to be alert to it, and we really want clinicians to be alert to it.’
Spain has been one of the worst affected countries so far.
Yesterday, Britain’s monkeypox outbreak hit 90, as England logged eight more cases, Scotland spotted another two and Wales and Northern Ireland confirmed their first infections.
EU health chiefs published a risk assessment today which will advise member states to prepare a programme for rolling out jabs to control the spread. No monkeypox vaccine exists, but the smallpox vaccine, which was routinely offered to Britons until the virus was eradicated more than four decades ago, is 85 per cent effective at stopping a monkeypox infection
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases lead, said: ‘We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in the non-endemic countries’
Timeline of monkeypox
1958: Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.
1970: The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.
2003: A Monkeypox outbreak occurred in the US after rodents were imported from Africa. Cases were reported in both humans and pet prairie dogs. All the human infections followed contact with an infected pet and all patients recovered.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2018: Monkeypox appeared in the UK for the first time in a Nigerian naval officer who was visiting Cornwall for training. They were treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2018: A second UK monkeypox case is confirmed in Blackpool. There is no link with the first case in Cornwall. Instead, the patient is though to have picked up the infection when travelling in Nigeria. They were treated at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Royal Liverpool University Hospital.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2018: A third person is diagnosed with monkeypox. The individual worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and treated the second Monkeypox case. They received treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
DECEMBER 3, 2019: A patient was diagnosed with monkeypox in England, marking the fourth ever case.
MAY 25, 2021: Two cases of monkeypox were identified in north Wales. Both patients had travel links to Nigeria.
A third person living with one of the cases was diagnosed and admitted to hospital, bringing the total number ever to seven.
MAY 7, 2022: A person was diagnosed with Monkeypox in England after recently travelling to Nigeria. The person received care at the expert infectious disease unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.
MAY 14, 2022: Two more cases were confirmed in London. The infected pair lived in the same household but had not been in contact with the case announced one week earlier.
One of these individuals received care at the expert infectious disease unit at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The other isolated at home and did not need hospital treatment.
MAY 16, 2022: Four more cases were announced, bringing the UK total to seven. Three of these cases are in London, while one of their contacts is infected in the north east of England.
The spate of cases was described as ‘unusual’ and ‘surprising’ as experts warn gay and bisexual men to look out for new rashes.
MAY 19, 2022: Two more cases were revealed, with no travel links or connections to other cases. The cases were based in the South East and London. Fears began to grow that infections are going undetected.
MAY 20, 2022: Eleven more cases are announced, meaning Britain’s monkeypox outbreak have doubled to 20. Minsters discuss the possibility of a public health campaign to warn gay men the disease may be more prevalent for them
MAY 23, 2022: Scotland logs its first ever monkeypox case and 36 more infectioned announced in England. It brings the UK total to 57.
MAY 24, 2022: England logs another 14 cases, bringing the UK total to 71.
MAY 25, 2022: Another seven infections are spotted in England, meaning 78 cases have been detected in the UK.
MAY 26, 2022: Wales and Northern Ireland detect their first monkeypox cases in the recent outbreak, Scotland spots two more and England logs eight, bringing the UK total to 90.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses have now logged 57 cases in little over a fortnight.
Authorities described the outbreak — which has disproportionately struck gay and bisexual men — as ‘significant and concerning’ but insisted the risk to the UK population remains low.
Health officials said yesterday the virus can be stopped but could become endemic to Europe unless the outbreak is thwarted soon.
In a rallying cry urging nations to act immediately, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) executive called the situation ‘containable’.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases lead, said: ‘We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in the non-endemic countries.’ However, she warned: ‘We can’t take our eye off the ball on what’s happening.’
The ECDC simultaneously warned monkeypox may become endemic to the continent, if transmission continues and it spreads to pets or wildlife.
Sixteen countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, and Spain, have all detected the virus.
Until this worldwide outbreak, the rash-causing virus had only been detected in four countries outside of western or central Africa, where the virus is entrenched in animals and spillover events occur.
The ECDC, which oversees the EU response to infectious diseases, said: ‘If human-to-animal transmission occurs, and the virus spreads in an animal population, there is a risk the disease could become endemic in Europe.’
Health chiefs are alarmed about the ‘unprecedented’ cluster of cases, which has disproportionately struck gay and bisexual men.
Speaking at a WHO live Q&A on monkeypox, Dr Van Kerkhove said: ‘This is a containable situation, particularly in the countries where we are seeing these outbreaks that are happening across Europe, in North America as well.’
She added: ‘We’re in a situation where we can use public health tools of early identification, supported isolation of cases.
‘We can stop human-to-human transmission.’
She said transmission was happening via ‘close physical contact: skin-to-skin contact’, and that most of the people identified so far had not had a severe case of the disease.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, who heads the smallpox secretariat on the WHO emergencies programme, said ‘this is the first time we’re seeing cases across many countries at the same time and people who have not travelled to the endemic regions in Africa’.
She said it was not yet known whether the virus had mutated to become more transmissible but viruses in the wider orthopoxvirus group ‘tend not to mutate and they tend to be fairly stable’.
‘We don’t yet have evidence yet that there is mutation in the virus itself,’ Dr Lewis said.
Virologists are studying the first genomic sequences of the virus, she added.
Andy Seale, strategies advisor at the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections programmes, stressed that while the virus could be caught through sexual activity, it was not a sexually transmitted disease.
He said: ‘While we are seeing some cases amongst men who have sex with men, this is not a gay disease, as some people in social media have attempted to label it. That’s just not the case.
‘This demographic is generally a demographic that really does take care of health screening… They’ve been proactive about responding to unusual symptoms.
‘Anybody can contract monkeypox through close contact.’
Dr Van Kerkhove added that as surveillance widened, experts did expect to see more cases.
No monkeypox-specific vaccine exists but smallpox jabs, which were routinely offered to Brits until the virus was eradicated four decades ago, are up to 85 per cent effective.
The report said using the smallpox vaccine within four days of exposure to monkeypox could have a ‘significant protective effect’ and urged countries to consider vaccinating those with an infection and their close contacts.