Fears monkeypox could be sexually transmissible for the first time after outbreak of 7 cases

EXPERTS fear monkeypox could be passed on during sex for the first time, as the UK has logged seven new cases in a matter of weeks.

Infections have risen rapidly, after the first patient travelled with the virus back into Britain from Nigeria.

Yesterday health chiefs warned gay and bisexual men to be on the lookout for new unexplained rashes.

This came after four of the new cases identified as gay or bisexual, having all picked up the bug in London.

It led to new theories emerging surrounding the spread of the virus – which could have been due to intimate contact, such as during sex.

While it doesn't necessarily mean it is a sexually transmitted disease in the exact sense that HIV is, it means any close contact that comes with sex could pass it on more easily.

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Mateo Prochazka, an STI expert and head of the UKHSA team investigating the cases, told the Telegraph: "Close contact between two people (such as during sex) could facilitate transmission – but this has never been described before.

“However, the high proportion of cases in the current outbreak in England that are gay or bisexual (4/7, 57 per cent) is highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks.

“This is further suggested by the fact that common contacts have been identified for only two  of the four latest cases.

What is even more bizarre is finding cases that appear to have acquired the infection via sexual contact – this is a novel route of transmission that will have implications for outbreak response and control."

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Experts have warned the virus is being community spread, with people who might have been in close contact tracked down by doctors.

UKHSA has urged medics to be alert for people coming to see them with unexplained rashes.

The rare disease is more commonly spread by wild animals in parts of west or central Africa.

But it can be caught by humans and taken to other countries, although it does not spread very easily between people.

Direct contact with monkeypox scabs, or with a person with symptoms like a rash, coughing or sneezing, can spread the virus.

Dr Michael Skinner, Reader in Virology, Imperial College London, said: “Monkeypox seems to require close contact to spread, we’ve seen infection of close family or household members and carers in hospitals, which might also include intimate contact

“Depending on the stage of infection, close range respiratory or droplet transmission can probably occur.


"Direct contact with lesions will probably transmit the virus, which might enter by the mouth.

"When the lesions have healed, the scabs (which might carry infectious virus) can be shed as dust, which could be inhaled."

Symptoms include fever, a headache, chills, exhaustion, aches and swollen lymph nodes.

A rash usually spreads from the face across the body around five days after a fever appears before forming a scab.

The symptoms are usually mild and most people recover within a few weeks after receiving treatment in a specialist hospital.

Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor in the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said: "It may not be actual transmitted by sexual intercourse rather than the close contact associated with sexual intercourse.

“Further work looking at whether the virus is found in semen is required to say truly sexually transmitted.” 

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: “We know the monkeypox virus can be transmitted via close contact. There is no evidence that it is a sexually-transmitted virus, such as HIV.

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"It’s more that here the close contact during sexual or intimate activity, including prolonged skin-to-skin contact. may be the key factor during transmission.

“This may indeed be the first time transmission of monkeypox via sexual contact has been documented, although it has not been confirmed to be the case."

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