Monkeypox — a close relative of smallpox — is a viral disease typically contracted from animal bites or the consumption of improperly cooked meat, but that can spread from person-to-person by close contact. Initial symptoms of infection can include chills, fatigue, fever, and muscle aches — with more severe cases often presenting with a rash on the face and genitals that can spread elsewhere on the body before scabbing over. The virus is known to cause severe disease among certain vulnerable groups, including young children, people who are immunosuppressed and pregnant women.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, there have now been more than 200 confirmed cases of monkeypox worldwide, outside of the countries where the virus normally spreads, since the outbreak was first reported on May 7 this year.
In the UK, the reported number of cases stood at 78 as of Wednesday.
Across the channel, meanwhile, 15 cases have been reported across Europe — with five of these having been detected in France.
In response, the French National Authority for Health (HAS) has now recommended that French residents who have come into close contact with a person infected with monkeypox be given a vaccination to better protect them.
In a statement, a HAS spokesperson said that the authority “recommends the implementation of a reactive post-exposure vaccination strategy with the third-generation vaccine only”.
This will apply to adults who have had the opportunity to contract monkeypox from a close contact with an infected individual, including public health professionals exposed without personal protective equipment.
Vaccines, they continued, should be “administered ideally within four days after the risky contact and at most 14 days later, with a two-dose regimen — or three doses in immunocompromised subjects — spaced 28 days apart.
“This strategy must be put in place as soon as a case of infection is identified following an investigation by the [Regional Health Agency] and the regional unit of Public Health France.”
READ MORE: Monkeypox outbreak: Virus has single origin and may be ‘hypermutated’
In an interview on the radio network RTL yesterday, French Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon said that she was in favour of giving the smallpox vaccine not only to close contact cases but also healthcare providers like doctors and nurses as well.
She said: “The reserves are there, we have strategic reserves, and it will be a targeted vaccination process, we are not talking about total vaccination.
“We are not expecting the disease to flare up. We are taking the necessary precautions — meaning vigilance, in this case — because it is a virus that we had not seen in Europe for some time.”
According to L’Indépendant, the strategy for handling monkeypox will likely be similar to that which was adopted in France at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — “identify, detect and isolate”.
Ms Bourguignon concluded that she will soon participate in a meeting with Europe’s other health ministers in order to discuss the “strategies that we will adopt”.
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The news of the vaccination strategy was met with scorn from some quarters.
Senator of France Alain Houpert — who represents the Côte-d’Or department — tweeted: “Five contaminated people in France and already the new Minister for Health is giving in to panic.”
He added: “Could this frantic race against the disease be the disease of a society which has given in to fear?”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.