Health chiefs concerned with the global monkeypox scare have issued advice to Ireland’s gay community to urge people to check their genitals for rashes.
The virus has been detected in 11 countries around the world, including the UK, which has at least 20 cases, but no infections have been confirmed in Ireland.
A new monkeypox task force was announced by the HSE on Monday and it has now issued specific advice on the spread of the virus through sex.
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A spokesperson said: “Most of the recent cases that have been reported in the UK identify as gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbHSM).
“The infection can be spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids and skin lesions from a case of monkeypox.
“Monkey pox is not very contagious – it takes close physical contact to spread between people.
“Contact with close family members or sexual contact presents the greatest risk of person-to-person spread.
“Following sexual contact, the rash may also initially be found in the anogenital areas.
“Gays, Bisexuals and Men Who Have Sex with Men (gbHSM) [are advised that] although the risk of spread in the wider community is low, the most recent cases in gbHSM communities in the UK suggest that there may be a higher risk in this group.
He added: “As the virus is spread by close contact, the HSE advises those who identify as gbMSM (especially if they have undertaken international travel within the last month), to be alert for any outbreaks unusual skin or blister lesion on any part of their (or their partner’s) body, especially their genitals.
“If they notice such changes, they should contact their local STI clinic or GP (GP) for advice.”
The HSE is working with Gay Heath Network to ensure ‘messages are delivered appropriately’.
Monkeypox is a viral illness that can cause mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, and a rash that forms a crust.
It is linked to the killer virus smallpox, which is believed to have killed 300 million people worldwide in the past 122 years, but it is a much milder disease.
Cases normally occur in Africa, but cases also occur in Europe that have no known link to Africa.
The virus, which was found in Denmark in the 1950s and in Africa in the 1970s, is now present in 11 countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, America, Canada and Australia.
Anyone concerned about having monkeypox is advised to contact their GP, local sexual health clinic or other health service and book a PCR test, then monitor for symptoms for 21 days.
So far, most cases have been reported as mild, but severe cases have been detected in parents with young children and in people with weakened immune systems.
Dr Derval Igoe, acting director of the Center for Health Protection Monitoring, has been appointed to lead the new HSE Emergency Task Force.
The HSE’s senior specialist revealed on Monday that close contacts of confirmed cases will be ‘asked for temperature monitoring and they are being observed over a period of 21 days after they had their last exposure’.
Anyone with symptoms is advised to avoid children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
The HSE spokesman said of the worrying outbreak: “The HPSC [Health Prevention Surveillance Centre] will continue to monitor this situation closely and provide relevant updates to the public as appropriate.
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