The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said it was cooperating with Public Health England after two apparently unrelated cases of monkeypox were reported in Cornwell and Blackpool.
Both patients are believed to have travelled to Nigeria, where a significant outbreak of the virus began 12 months ago. Seven of the 113 people known to have contracted the virus in Nigeria have died.
Cases of the disease, which is normally spread from animals to humans, have been reported in 16 of Nigeria’s 36 states.
“Following the recent report of the two cases in the UK, NCDC has been working with the UK’s public health agency… to investigate these cases,” the NCDC said in a statement, adding that the body was taking steps “to strengthen surveillance, detection and response to cases of monkeypox.”
Monkeypox remains a rare disease and is usually confined to remote parts of central and West Africa, where locals are likely to come into contact with infected wild animals. The disease is often spread through handling monkeys and rodents, health officials say.
Most who contract the virus recover within a few weeks after reporting symptoms that include a rash, fever, headache, body pain, sore throat and enlargement of the glands.
A wider outbreak in the United Kingdom is thought highly unlikely as the virus does not spread easily among people except through close contact with an infected person.
Nigerian health authorities have attempted to curtail the spread of the virus by encouraging people to refrain from eating monkey meat and washing hands with soap and water after coming into contact with animals. In some affected states people were discouraged from shaking hands with strangers.
There is neither a vaccine nor a specific treatment for monkeypox. However it is believed that the smallpox vaccination, now rarely available since the elimination of the disease, can be used both to protect against acquiring monkeypox and in treating it.
The first case of the disease in the UK is believed to be a Nigerian naval officer who stayed at a Royal Navy base in Cornwall while taking part in a training exercise. The risk to the wider public is thought to be very low although more than 50 people have been warned they may have come into contact with the disease.