The health service is preparing for the arrival of the monkeypox virus, which is spreading in several European countries.
A World Health Organization committee was due to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.
The HSE has set up a multi-disciplinary incident management team to prepare for the possible arrival of monkeypox, and infectious disease experts are on alert for patients with symptoms of the virus.
While no cases have yet been identified in Ireland, 11 new cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the UK, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 20.
Germany, Italy and Belgium all reported their first cases of the virus in recent days, while Spain said it had identified 21 cases.
For the first time, the virus appears to be spreading in the community. Previous cases in the UK were linked to travel from high prevalence areas such as West Africa.
Most cases in the UK involve gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. The HSE advises people in these communities to be alert for any unusual rash or blister lesion on any part of their body.
According to the Center for Health Protection Surveillance, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It mainly occurs in remote areas of central and western Africa. There are two types of monkeypox: the West African monkeypox and the Congo Basin monkeypox. The Congo Basin type is more severe, but only the milder West African type has spread to countries outside Africa.
The infection can be passed from person to person through contact with bodily fluids and skin lesions from a case of monkeypox.
Monkeypox is not very contagious, according to the HPSC, because it takes close physical contact to spread between people.
“Contact with close family members or sexual contact presents the greatest risk of person-to-person spread. The risk of spread within the community, in general, is very low,” he advises.
Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. The virus causes a rash that starts on the face before spreading to the body. The raised red spots quickly turn into small blisters, usually within one to three days of the onset of fever.
The HPSC states that monkeypox infection is usually a self-limiting illness and most people recover within a few weeks, although severe illness can occur in people with very weak immune systems and in very little babies.
There is no medical cure and treatment is to relieve symptoms.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the UK government has stocks of smallpox vaccine, which could be effective against monkeypox as the viruses are quite similar. This is offered in the UK to very close contacts of those affected.
“Most cases are mild, and I can confirm that we have purchased new doses of effective monkeypox vaccines,” Javid said.
Spain is evaluating different treatment options, such as antivirals and vaccines, but so far all cases have mild symptoms and therefore no specific treatment has been needed, Spain’s Minister of Health told reporters on Friday. Health, Carolina Darias.
The US state of Massachusetts on Wednesday reported a case of monkeypox in a man who recently traveled to Canada, prompting authorities to investigate potential links to the outbreak in Europe.
The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Thursday that two cases of monkeypox have been detected in the province of Quebec, the first confirmed cases in Canada.
– Additional reporting: Reuters