'Inevitable' that monkeypox will be detected in Ireland, says Varadkar

'Inevitable' that monkeypox will be detected in Ireland, says Varadkar

The first case of monkeypox is understood to have been confirmed in Northern Ireland and Wales. (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Tanaiste says it is “inevitable” that there will be cases of monkeypox in the state soon after the first case was found in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA) confirmed the case, but to protect patient confidentiality, no further details were disclosed.

The PHA said the case was not unexpected following the presence of monkeypox cases elsewhere in the UK.

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there are 79 cases to date in Britain, with figures due to be updated on Thursday afternoon.

Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that the spread of the virus was inevitable.

“We're not aware of any cases in the Republic of Ireland as of yet, but you know, it is inevitable that there will be cases in the Republic of Ireland and the HSE has set a group to monitor the situation.

“We don't anticipate that this is going to be a public health emergency. Like Covid, for example.

“There are a number of outbreaks around the world and the HSE is monitoring the situation very closely, and making sure that healthcare professionals are informed as to what the symptoms are so if people do have monkey box and it can be identified quickly.” 

Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, of the same family of viruses as smallpox, although it is much less severe and experts say chances of infection are low.

Earlier, Dr Gillian Armstrong, head of health protection at the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, said the region is prepared for any potential risks to the population. 

“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.”

A case has also been confirmed in Wales meaning the monkeypox virus has now been identified across Britain.

Dr Giri Shankar, director of health protection for Public Health Wales, said: “We are working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Public Health Scotland, and Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, and we are ready to respond to cases of monkeypox in Wales.

“The case is being managed appropriately. To protect patient confidentiality, no further details relating to the patient will be disclosed.

“Everyone is being asked to be aware of the monkeypox symptoms, but it is important that gay and bisexual men are alert as it’s believed to be spreading in sexual networks.

“Anyone with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body should contact NHS 111 or call a sexual health service if they have concerns.” 

There are now believed to be 79 cases of monkeypox in Britain.

The UKHSA will update the totals later on Thursday.

Health officials in Northern Ireland are expected to hold a briefing later on Thursday.

Despite the rise in cases, the UKHSA has said the risk to the overall UK population “remains low”.

Gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men are being urged in particular to be aware of symptoms, especially if they have recently had a new sexual partner.

UKHSA teams have been tracing contacts of those with a confirmed case and are advising those at highest risk to isolate for 21 days.

A smallpox vaccine is also being offered to close contacts to reduce their risk of symptoms and severe illness.

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