EXPERTS have warned monkeypox could become permanent in Europe if pets start catching it too.
A total of 57 cases have been confirmed in Britain so far, with all but one of them in England.
The rare virus has also spread across 20 countries in Europe, with Brits already warned to be “alert” when they hit holiday hotspots this year.
There have still not been any reports of monkeypox in pets, but in a rapid risk assessment on Monday, the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) said it was important to “manage exposed pets and prevent the disease from being transmitted to wildlife”.
Issuing the update, the ECDC said: “If human-to-animal transmission occurs, and the virus spreads in an animal population, there is a risk that the disease could become endemic in Europe.
“Rodents, and particularly species of the family of Sciuridae (squirrels) are likely to be suitable hosts, more so than humans, and transmission from humans to (pet) animals is theoretically possible.
“Such a spill-over event could potentially lead to the virus establishing in European wildlife and the disease becoming an endemic zoonosis. The probability of this spill-over event is very low.”
Prof David Robertson, of the Glasgow Center for Virus Research, told the Telegraph this was a “valid concern”.
He said: “It would seem sensible to monitor any animals/pets that infected people are in contact with.”
Experts believe rodents, such as rats and squirrels, can harbor the virus but the full range of animals at risk is not yet known.
The disease appears to be disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men.
Health chiefs have warned gay and bisexual men to be on the lookout for new unexplained rashes.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, however can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact during sex.
It causes flu-like symptoms before a blistering rash spreads across the body.
Festivals – attended by Europeans on holiday – have been tied to outbreaks across the region, including in Spain, Italy and Germany.
And the World Health Organization (WHO) said the explosion of cases is “a highly unusual event”.
The agency’s Europe director, Dr Hans Henri Kluge, warned that as summer begins across the continent, mass gatherings, festivals and parties could fuel the spread of monkeypox.
Dr Kluge said: “I am concerned that transmission could accelerate, as the cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity, and the symptoms are unfamiliar to many.”
Asked about the risk to Brits going to summer festivals or going on holiday, chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said people “need to be alert” to the virus.
Dr Hopkins, of the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), told the BBC: “The risk to the general population [from monkeypox] remains extremely low.
“People need to be alert to it, and we really want clinicians to be alert to it.”
Downing Street said there are no plans to hold a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee over monkeypox, or to impose any travel bans.
Asked about travel restrictions from affected countries, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No, no considerations of that kind.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is community transmission not linked to travel.”
Before now, there had only been eight cases of monkeypox in the UK, all with links to travel from West Africa.
But that’s not the case for this outbreak, which has now seen at least 57 in the UK infected.
There is already community transmission in the UK – but the UKHSA stresses that the risk to the public is “low”.
Many more are expected to be diagnosed in the coming weeks, experts say.
Dr Hopkins comments came as some of Europe’s top holiday destinations reported outbreaks of the virus.
There are around 100 cases across Europe and Northern America, the WHO said Monday.
Monkeypox in Europe
The full list of European countries with confirmed monkeypox cases are:
And elsewhere in the world:
European countries that have reported boxes
And elsewhere in the world:
A leading adviser to the WHO said the “random” outbreak of monkeypox might be explained by risky sexual behavior at two recent mass events in Europe.
A Gay Pride festival in Gran Canaria – attended by 80,000 people – was linked with a number of cases in Madrid, Tenerife and Italy.
In Spain, which has the most monkeypox cases in Europe, infections in the Malasaña neighborhood of Madrid were traced back to a sauna – Sauna Paraíso – which has since been closed.
A number of other communities followed reporting more cases, including Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Extremadura.
A German government report to lawmakers, obtained by the AP, said the risk of catching monkeypox “mainly appears to lie with sexual contacts among men”.
The four confirmed cases in Germany have been linked to exposure at party events including on Gran Canaria and in Berlin, it said.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s three confirmed cases of monkeypox have been linked to a large-scale fetish festival in the port city of Antwerp, it was revealed on Friday.
Dr David Heymann, who formerly headed WHOs emergencies department, said the leading theory to explain the spread of the disease was sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men at two raves held in Spain and Belgium.
Dr Heymann told AP that it’s known monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected.
It looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission, Dr Heymann said.
Monkeypox typically infects people in Central and Western Africa when it jumps from a wild animal, such as rodents and primates, into humans.
It comes as the EU’s infectious-disease agency prepares to tell member states to prepare vaccination programmes, according to the Financial Times.
Any jab initiatives would use an existing smallpox vaccine that also offers 85 per cent efficacy against monkeypox.
The two viruses cause similar symptoms, although smallpox was eradicated by 1980 thanks to the jabs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said there were no plans for an “at scale” vaccination program in the UK.
It came despite Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordering a further 20,000 doses of the smallpox jab on top of the 5,000 already secured.
“We do have vaccines procured at significant numbers,” the PM’s spokesperson said.
“But given the nature of this and how we know it’s spreading, it’s thought to be no clinical requirement for that sort of at scale campaign.”
The outbreaks are atypical, according to the WHO, as they are occurring in countries where the virus does not regularly circulate.
Scientists are seeking to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed.
But as of yet, the WHO does not have evidence the virus has mutated.
WHO said confirmed cases have so far been the less severe West African group of monkeypox viruses.
MP Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said this was not “some repeat of Covid”.
He said: “We are certainly not in a position where I would in anyway worry the public that this is some repeat of Covid, because it certainly does not appear to be anywhere near the same platform of seriousness.”