Two cases of the rare disease monkeypox have been detected in north Wales this week, with both patients admitted to hospital in England as a precaution.
A Public Health Wales (PHW) official confirmed that two members of the same household were affected.
First detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in 1970, the illness is most commonly found near tropical rainforests in central and west African countries, with the largest ever outbreak occurring in Nigeria in 2017.
Although almost 50 people were infected with the monkeypox virus in the US in 2003, it is unusual for cases to be seen outside of Africa – especially on such a scale.
On that occasion, the disease, which can be passed from animals to humans, spread from African rodents imported into the US from Ghana.
Human-to-human transmission is then possible via bodily fluids or respiratory droplets. Travellers from Nigeria spread the disease to Israel, the UK and Singapore in 2018 and 2019.
The monkeypox virus presents symptoms similar to smallpox, a more virulent disease which was eradicated in 1980 after a global vaccination drive.
Monkeypox has a six to 16 day incubation period and those infected can suffer fever, headaches, back pain and general tiredness.
After the fever stage, a rash appears on areas of the patient’s body such as the face, the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet. This skin eruption can then form blisters, which take several weeks to disappear.
Most cases of the virus do not cause serious illness, but some deaths have been reported among patients in west Africa.
Speaking of the two cases in the UK, Richard Firth, of Public Health Wales (PHW), said: “Confirmed cases of monkeypox are a rare event in the UK, and the risk to the general public is very low.”
“Monkeypox, in most cases, is a mild condition which will resolve on its own and have no long-term effects on a person’s health. Most people recover within a few weeks,” he added.
The disease’s name derives from the fact that it was first identified in laboratory monkeys in the late 1950s.
However, the World Health Organization said it is unclear which animals act as the virus’ “natural reservoir”. However, rodents are thought to be the most likely contender.