It is “very unlikely” that monkeypox will spread widely in Ireland, according to Professor Sam McConkey.

Last week, the World Health Organisation declared the global monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern – the strongest warning it can give.

The organisation said there are now more than 18,000 cases of the virus around the world, with the majority in Europe.

Some 98% of the cases detected so far are among men who have sex with men and the WHO is advising them to limit the risk by reducing the number of sexual partners they may have.

So far, 85 cases of the disease have been detected in Ireland.

Monkeypox

On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Infectious Diseases Professor Sam McConkey said the virus is “very unlikely to spread widely in the general population.”

He warned however that it could become endemic in Europe and said the real worry would be if the virus mutates and starts to spread more efficiently.

“I think it is very unlikely that this will start to spread widely in the general population,” he said.

“The R0 (reproductive number), if we go back to the old technical numbers we used to use with COVID, in the general population is much less than one.

“Also, only about 8% of close contacts acquire the disease. So, unless the person has a very large number of close contacts, generally it doesn’t continue to spread.

“So, I would say it is very, very unlikely to become a generalised epidemic with millions of people like we had with COVID and I really don’t see a likelihood of the unpleasant and horrible social restrictions on travel and movement we had with COVID.

“So, I think this is quite a different type of pandemic. I think it is likely to stay within a group.”

Spread

Moneypox is not believed to be a sexually transmitted infection; however it does spread through skin-to-skin contact.

It can also spread from one person to another through close contact with lesions, some body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding or towels.

Earlier this week, the Government said the smallpox vaccine would be rolled out to at-risk groups to help prevent the spread.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said the vaccine would be offered to:

  • Gay and bisexual men.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • Those at high-risk of unprotected exposure.

Prof McConkey said the virus could now become endemic in Europe.

“In some ways, I feel reminiscent of the HIV epidemic back in the early 80s when, again, men who have sex with men were originally the risk group there,” he said.

“That did spread to 50 or 80 million people and caused a worldwide pandemic. So, I think it could become endemic, it could become part of the furniture if you like, like syphilis or like herpes, but I don’t see anything like the 6,000 or 7,000 deaths we had from COVID. It’s very different from COVID.”

He said the real worry would a mutation in the virus.

“We’re all familiar now with mutations of viruses – it could have a more pathogenic strain that would have more propensity to cause lung disease and heart disease.

“There’s always a worry, when it is in thousands and thousands of humans that it will evolve into a more vicious animal and cause more disease.”