The first British monkeypox patient to go public is an HR manager from London who caught the virus after being deported from Dubai for testing positive for HIV, MailOnline can reveal.
James M, 35, has spoken out after claiming that health chiefs still haven’t contacted him despite being diagnosed with monkeypox nearly a fortnight ago.
He slammed the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) for ‘a real lack of any basic process or care to stop the spread’ of the tropical virus, which has so far infected more than 300 Britons, mostly gay and bisexual men.
James — who wished to keep his surname anonymous — admitted he is not following self-isolation rules because ‘I was told to stay home until UKHSA contacted me… and they never did.’
He accused the UK of having a lackadaisical approach to contact tracing, saying it was ‘no wonder’ Britain had more cases than any other country outside of Africa. There is also a lack of awareness about monkeypox’s lesser-known symptoms, he claimed.
James was readjusting to life in west London when he began suffering from ‘really weird aches’ in his lower back, exhaustion, extreme thirst and pain when he used the toilet.
He became convinced he had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) after sleeping with around 10 new partners in the weeks before his symptoms started.
‘I’m a gay man, and having just come back to the UK, I was having a good time,’ he told MailOnline.
But medics wrongly assumed it wasn’t monkeypox because he didn’t have the virus’ tell-tale rash.
James had just returned from Dubai, where being gay is illegal, after four years following a ‘shock’ HIV diagnosis in February. It saw him lose his job and home.
After contacting his local STI clinic in west London, James was sent for tests at a specialist centre in Soho on May 25 and was told to avoid public transport or close contact with others.
‘When I got to the clinic I was told to go and wait outside the main door and call them, they said they were going to put on PPE and they told me not to touch door handles,’ he said.
‘The whole experience kind of heightens your sense of, “oh this must be really serious”. I remember going to Covid centres and it wasn’t as daunting or overwhelming as this.’
At the time, several dozen people had already been diagnosed with the mystery monkeypox virus and it was clear the virus was spreading in London among gay and bisexual men.
The UKHSA claims it has tried on multiple attempts to get in touch with James.
He admitted he is not following self-isolation rules because ‘I was told to stay home until UKHSA contacted me… and they never did’
But James claims he was assured by medics that his symptoms could not be the rare disease because he did not have its hallmark lesions, scabs or spots.
On May 28, three days later, a PCR test confirmed that he was in fact infected with monkeypox.
A letter sent by Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, seen by MailOnline, instructed him to ‘stay in isolation at home until further review from the team’ at UKHSA.
James has still not been contacted, despite eight days passing since the letter was issued. He claims he has phoned his local STI clinic every day since the diagnosis.
He told MailOnline: ‘It’s no wonder now we’re getting so many more infections if no contact tracing or awareness about you not needing the spots to have the virus being told to people.
‘No-one’s asked me who I’ve been in contact with. I was told that within 24 hours of my diagnosis someone from UKHSA would call me.
‘I’ve called the clinic every day, asking “why aren’t they calling me, I’m not allowed outside and not allowed to go work. The UKHSA is not calling me, someone needs to document this.”’
James still does not know who he caught the virus from, but he says he has ‘a hunch’ — someone who ‘had a spot on their chest’. He added: ‘I asked them about it and they said they’d always had it.’
He accused the UK of having a lackadaisical approach to contact tracing, saying it was ‘no wonder’ Britain had more cases than any other country outside of Africa. There is also a lack of awareness about’ monkeypox’s lesser-known symptoms, he claimed
The UK has logged 302 infections, the most out of any other country, followed by Spain (190), Portugal (143), Canada (80) and Germany (66)
Medics must now alert health authorities to monkeypox cases by law
Monkeypox has become a notifiable disease in England, meaning all medics are legally obliged to alert local health authorities to suspected cases.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said laboratories must also tell it if the virus is identified in a sample.
To date, 302 infections have been confirmed in the UK.
Wendi Shepherd, monkeypox incident director at UKHSA, said: ‘Rapid diagnosis and reporting is the key to interrupting transmission and containing any further spread of monkeypox.
‘This new legislation will support us and our health partners to swiftly identify, treat and control the disease.
‘It also supports us with the swift collection and analysis of data which enables us to detect possible outbreaks of the disease and trace close contacts rapidly, whilst offering vaccinations where appropriate to limit onward transmission.’
David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: ‘Making monkeypox a notifiable disease suggests a desire to be sure to have reporting from all sectors (public and private) and all parts of the NHS.
‘It suggests that the Government wants to focus surveillance on the entire population – not only on the risk groups identified so far.
‘This will permit clear identification of all risk groups and help better understand the epidemiology and extent of spread.’
A large proportion of cases so far have been identified in the gay, bisexual and men who have sex with other men community.
Monkeypox is not normally a sexually-transmitted infection, but it can be passed on by direct contact during sex.
It can also be spread through touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash.
According to the UKHSA, monkeypox does not usually spread easily between people and the overall risk to the UK population remains low.
Anyone with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, should contact NHS 111 or call a sexual health service if they have concerns, it said.
He fears the lack of contact tracing means this person could still be spreading the virus to others, unknowingly.
Since the first UK case in the new outbreak was detected on May 6, 287 people have been diagnosed with the tropical virus in England, ten in Scotland, three in Wales and two in Northern Ireland.
Anyone who tests positive for monkeypox is being advised to self-isolate at home for 21 days — roughly how long it takes for the virus to cause symptoms.
Infected patients are also being told to avoid sex until symptoms clear and wear condoms during sex for eight weeks post-infection.
Both confirmed cases and close contacts in the UK are being offered the Imvanex vaccine to form a buffer of immune people around a confirmed case to limit the spread of the disease.
The strategy, known as ring vaccination, has been used in previous monkeypox outbreaks and is also being carried out in some EU countries. Imvanex is thought to reduce a person’s chance of catching monkeypox by up to 85 per cent.
UK health officials have linked the outbreak back to ‘gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in the UK and abroad’. MailOnline revealed last month that gay dating app Grindr had alerted to users of monkeypox symptoms.
James said he is done with sex for a while after a traumatic six months.
‘I’m a pretty sex-positive person, have fun, live your life, kind of guy,’ he said, but added that ‘the past six months has been pretty much the… worst that could happen’.
‘For now I’m really focused on laying roots, making sure this doesn’t destabilise my career, building new networks and connections.
‘Having been in a country where being gay was illegal, I’m definitely going to enjoy that too. But more dates and something of substance, rather than the hedonistic gay parties.’
James’ condition deteriorated in the days after his diagnosis, but when he tried to book a hospital appointment he claims he was turned away because there were no specialist staff on weekends.
‘I received no call or support from any healthcare provider for almost a week after diagnosis. I felt very ill at one point,’ he added.
‘I called the hospital and told them I was weak with fever, severe back pain and had been diagnosed with monkeypox and they told me “Do not come into A&E, our monkeypox specialists don’t work at the weekend”, which I was very shocked about and made a formal complaint to the trust.’
Specialists from Chelsea and Westminster trust began doing daily phone check-ins about a week later, but by then James felt as though he was already ‘through the eye of the storm’.
‘But I did ask who is responsible for contact tracing to try and contain the spread of monkeypox and she admitted that they’d messed up and didn’t know why no one had contacted me.’
James said he hoped that he would receive much more sensitive care when he returned to the UK after the ‘life-changing, stressful, scary’ experience in Dubai.
But he added: ‘Coming back to the UK where it’s supposed to be safe and have world-leading health care, it kind of felt like a kick in the teeth to have experienced this treatment.
‘Even though there were only 80ish people with it in UK when I was diagnosed, there was just a real lack of any basic process or care to try and stop the spread.
‘It’s frustrating coming out of Covid and seeing how lax they were with what is clearly a very spreadable disease, especially with men in London.’
Strict immigration laws in the United Arab Emirates means anyone who is HIV-positive can be refused entry or deported back to their home country.
But James said he knew the risks when he moved to the UAE. ‘The law is the law, and having been there for four years I knew what was what.
‘Having said that, what I did hate is that they don’t actually tell you what’s happening.’
He revealed that after testing positive for HIV, he was ‘forced to report to the middle of the desert for re-testing, and they confiscated my passport.
‘When I was being deported it was actually my work who had to tell me. As it’s your company that pays for it, all the results go to them rather than you being told.
Officials are urging gay and bisexual men to be aware of new lesions, rashes or scabs and get in contact with a sexual health clinic. They have released these images of cases to alert people to the virus’ symptoms
The infection often starts with small bumps that scab over and are contagious
‘So no doctor sits with you, or tells you how ill you are-they wouldn’t even give me a document or results paper, so you just get kicked out.
‘I was told I could go and pack a bag and wait for the police to come and get me at any time. It was all pretty life-changing, stressful, scary — like all control or feeling of having a choice was taken away overnight.’
Dr J. Yimmy Chow, consultant in communicable disease control at the UKHSA, told MailOnline: ‘We’ve made multiple attempts to reach this individual by phone and email and would urge them to contact the London Health Protection Team as soon as possible.
‘Anyone who suspects they might have Monkeypox, particularly if they have recently had a new sexual partner, to limit their contact with other people and contact NHS 111 or their local sexual health service as soon as they can.’
Analysis by the UKHSA last week revealed that more than 60 per cent of domestic infections have been among gay and bisexual men.
Almost nine in 10 were based in the epicentre London and at the time only two cases had been women. Most of the UK’s infections — 87 per cent — were among people aged 20 to 49.
And the majority of UK patients caught the virus in the UK rather than abroad, which is significant because cases outside of Africa were previously confined to people who had direct travel links to the continent.
Monkeypox, which was first discovered in lab monkeys in the late 1950s, is usually mild but can cause severe illness in some cases.
It can kill up to 10 per cent of people it infects. But the milder strain causing the current outbreak kills one in 100 — similar to when Covid first hit.
No monkeypox deaths linked with the ongoing outbreak have been reported yet.
The virus has an incubation period of anywhere up to 21 days, meaning it can take three weeks for symptoms to appear.
Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.
A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, which then spreads to other parts of the body — including the genitals. The rash can look like chickenpox or syphilis, and scabs can form which then fall off.
More than 900 cases have been reported worldwide, which is significant because cases outside of Africa were previously confined to people who had direct travel links to the continent.
Timeline of monkeypox
1958: Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.
1970: The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.
2003: A Monkeypox outbreak occurred in the US after rodents were imported from Africa. Cases were reported in both humans and pet prairie dogs. All the human infections followed contact with an infected pet and all patients recovered.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2018: Monkeypox appeared in the UK for the first time in a Nigerian naval officer who was visiting Cornwall for training. They were treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2018: A second UK monkeypox case is confirmed in Blackpool. There is no link with the first case in Cornwall. Instead, the patient is though to have picked up the infection when travelling in Nigeria. They were treated at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Royal Liverpool University Hospital.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2018: A third person is diagnosed with monkeypox. The individual worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and treated the second Monkeypox case. They received treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
DECEMBER 3, 2019: A patient was diagnosed with monkeypox in England, marking the fourth ever case.
MAY 25, 2021: Two cases of monkeypox were identified in north Wales. Both patients had travel links to Nigeria.
A third person living with one of the cases was diagnosed and admitted to hospital, bringing the total number ever to seven.
MAY 7, 2022: A person was diagnosed with Monkeypox in England after recently travelling to Nigeria. The person received care at the expert infectious disease unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.
MAY 14, 2022: Two more cases were confirmed in London. The infected pair lived in the same household but had not been in contact with the case announced one week earlier.
One of these individuals received care at the expert infectious disease unit at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The other isolated at home and did not need hospital treatment.
MAY 16, 2022: Four more cases were announced, bringing the UK total to seven. Three of these cases are in London, while one of their contacts is infected in the north east of England.
The spate of cases was described as ‘unusual’ and ‘surprising’ as experts warn gay and bisexual men to look out for new rashes.
MAY 19, 2022: Two more cases were revealed, with no travel links or connections to other cases. The cases were based in the South East and London. Fears began to grow that infections are going undetected.
MAY 20, 2022: Eleven more cases are announced, meaning Britain’s monkeypox outbreak have doubled to 20. Minsters discuss the possibility of a public health campaign to warn gay men the disease may be more prevalent for them
MAY 23, 2022: Scotland logs its first ever monkeypox case and 36 more infection announced in England. It brings the UK total to 57.
MAY 24, 2022: England logs another 14 cases, bringing the UK total to 71.
MAY 25, 2022: Another seven infections are spotted in England, meaning 78 cases have been detected in the UK.
MAY 26, 2022: Wales and Northern Ireland detect their first monkeypox case in the recent outbreak, while Scotland spots two more cases and England logs eight, bringing UK total to 90.
MAY 27, 2022: England detects 16 more cases, meaning 106 people in Britain have confirmed infections.
MAY 29, 2022: World Health Organization (WHO) says risk of monkeypox is ‘moderate’, citing concerns about virus infecting children and immunosuppressed people if it becomes more widespread.
MAY 30, 2022: The UK detects another 71 monkeypox cases, bringing the UK total to 179. Cases jumped 70 per cent in just three days.
MAY 31, 2022: Eleven infections are spotted across the UK, bringing the infection toll to 190.
JUNE 1, 2022: Another five cases are spotted in England and one is detected in Scotland, meaning the UK has now logged 196.
JUNE 2, 2022: The UK spots another 11 cases in England, bringing the UK total to 207.
JUNE 3, 2022: A further 18 cases are logged – 15 in England and three in Scotland, bringing Britain’s monkeypox infection toll to 225.
JUNE 6, 2022: Seventy-three cases are spotted in England, 2 in Scotland and 2 in Wales, bringing the UK total to 302.