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Monkeypox outbreak: Gay men advised to check for rashes

A gay man checks his face for potential monkeypox rash
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Concerns are growing around an outbreak of monkeypox. Normally confined to West Africa, outbreaks of the disease have been identified in the last couple of weeks in the UK, Portugal and Spain.

Yesterday, the CDC reported monkeypox was diagnosed in a man in Massachusetts.

Although occasional cases are identified in the US, they are usually in people who have returned from a trip to Central or West Africa. Two people in Maryland and Texas were diagnosed with it last year, but both had visited Nigeria beforehand.

However, the Massachusetts man had returned from a trip to Canada in late April.

“At this point in time, we don’t have any information that links the Massachusetts case to cases in the UK”, said Jennifer McQuiston of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She added, “I do think we are preparing for the possibility of more cases.”

The US individual concerned is in hospital, in a stable condition.

Related: CDC issues health alert to gay and bi men in Florida

The first UK case, reported earlier in May, was in a man who had returned from Nigeria. However, subsequent cases are in people who have no recent history of travels to West Africa.

In Lisbon, Portugal, five cases have been identified in young men. In Spain, authorities are investigating 23 suspected cases of monkeypox, of which 22 are in gay and bi men.

Nine cases have now been identified in the UK, and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), says the most recent fours cases have been in gay/bi men. The UK health agency says two of those men knew each other, and the pattern of transmission is, “highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks.”

This has prompted authorities in Europe to warn gay men to be alert if they notice any unusual rashes or lesions, especially around their genitals, and to contact a sexual health clinic if they have concerns.

Related: What is Shigella—and why should gay men know about it?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to smallpox. Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

It will often be accompanied by a chickenpox-like rash, with lesions tending to eventually scab over and fall off.

It’s usually a mild, self-limiting illness, and most people will recover within weeks. However, the deadliest variant of the virus can be fatal for up to one in ten of those infected.

It is not usually regarded as a sexually transmitted infection but can be transmitted through close body contact, or contact with contaminated linen and clothing. In Africa, most people catch it directly from animals rather than through human-to-human contact.