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Medical staff told to watch out for monkeypox as outbreak in Europe grows

Health Ministry says no cases in Israel, but with the disease spreading in Europe, urges precautions, recommends those from abroad who develop fever and lesions seek treatment

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)
This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)

The Health Ministry on Thursday said it was taking precautions against the possible spread of monkeypox in Israel, as an outbreak of the viral disease in Europe raised alarms among medical authorities.

The ministry said no cases of monkeypox had been detected within the country. The virus originates in wild animals like rodents and primates and occasionally jumps to people, where it can be transmitted through close contact. Until recently, most human cases had been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic.

But health officials in Portugal, Spain and the UK have all reported multiple cases recently, and people in the US and Italy have also been confirmed to be carrying the virus.

The Health Ministry said it had instructed medical staff to be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease, which can be fatal in up to 10 percent of cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Most patients only experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

The ministry urged anyone who returns from abroad and develops a fever along with lesions to seek medical attention.

There have been cases of the disease in Israel in the past, Channel 13 News reported.

The incubation period for monkeypox is from about five days to three weeks. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized. The disease is thought to be more severe in children.

People exposed to the virus are often given one of several smallpox vaccines, which have been shown to be effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed.

On Thursday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommended isolating all suspected cases and that high-risk contacts be offered the smallpox vaccine.

It said that the probability of transmission without close contact is low. But it warned that “the likelihood of further spread of the virus through close contact, for example during sexual activities, is considered to be high.”

The center recommended that authorities and community organizations raise awareness of the outbreak among men who have sex with other men or who have casual sex or multiple partners.

Monkeypox has not previously been documented to have spread through sex, but can be transmitted through close contact with infected people, their clothing or bedsheets.

Health officials in Spain reported seven cases of monkeypox and Portugal updated its number of confirmed cases to 14.

In Spain, all of the reported cases to date involved men in Madrid, officials said. Health officials are currently testing another 22 suspected cases, said Antonio Zapatero of the regional health department.

In Rome, the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital said Thursday it had confirmed one case of monkeypox in a patient who had recently traveled to Spain’s Canary Islands. Sweden’s public health agency also reported one case Thursday, saying it remained unclear how the patient became infected.

Meanwhile, the tally of confirmed cases in Britain rose to nine. Britain’s Health Security Agency said Wednesday that recent cases reported this week had been seen “predominantly in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men,” though it noted that it was unclear how exactly people had gotten infected.

The US state of Massachusetts on Wednesday reported one case of monkeypox in a man who recently traveled to Canada, prompting officials to probe potential links to the outbreak in Europe.

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