A “significant” number of patients at Blackpool Victoria Hospital may have been exposed to monkeypox after a health worker became the third person in England to be diagnosed with the tropical disease.
The unidentified medic is believed to have caught the virus from a patient, who was diagnosed, quarantined, and transferred to a specialist unit in Liverpool earlier this month after a trip to Nigeria.
It means two of the three UK cases of monkeypox were on the Fylde coast. The first was a Nigerian staying at a naval base in Cornwall.
Public Health England yesterday confirmed the NHS worker was involved in the care of the infected patient before they were diagnosed, and said: “We are adopting a highly precautionary approach to minimise the risk of additional cases, and are tracing anyone who had contact with this individual during the 24 hours before they noticed a rash.”
A spokesman did not say how many patients have been contacted, or which department the medic, who is now being treated in the north east, worked in, citing “patient confidentiality”.
She did say those who have not been contacted “do not need to be concerned.”
Some staff at the hospital, in Whinney Heys Road, have since been offered the smallpox vaccine in the hope it will lessen the impact of any potential monkeypox diagnoses.
Monkeypox does not spread easily between people and most who have contracted the infection recover within a few weeks, though severe illness can occur in some people.
All three UK victims are understood to be undergoing treatment in isolation in different regions – the Royal Free hospital in London, the Royal Liverpool University hospital, and the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
Dr Nick Phin, Deputy Director of the National Infection Service at PHE, said: “We have been actively monitoring contacts for 21 days after exposure, to detect anyone presenting with an illness so that they can be assessed quickly.
“It is therefore not wholly unexpected that a case has been identified.
“This person has been isolated and we are taking a highly precautionary approach to ensure that all contacts are traced.”
A spokesman for Public Health England, which fielded enquiries from the press yesterday rather than the hospital, said the number of patients who may have come into contact with the medic was “significant” but did not provide even a rough figure.
Marie Thompson, the director of nursing at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have been working within the guidance of Public Health England.
“All the staff have been traced and put in active surveillance and we have seen it is working.
“The staff member was picked up early and is getting quick treatment. We know monkeypox is a very rare disease, it is new to this country. This is a virus along the lines of having chickenpox. Symptoms are flu like.
“You get a rash, but people recover within a few weeks.”
Monkeypox is said to be caused by a virus, which causes initial symptoms of fever, headache, sore muscles, chills, and exhaustion.
A rash then follows, usually developing first on the face before spreading to other parts of the body.
It then forms a scab that later falls off.