Monkeypox – are we facing another health crisis?

Date posted: 30th May 2022

The first thing to say is that the Monkeypox disease is considerably less contagious than Covid-19 and that it is a pre-existing virus with available treatments. Employers can breathe a sigh a relief that Monkeypox is not another Covid!

So what is it?

It is a virus that is closely related to smallpox, which is now eradicated across the world. In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 4,594 suspected cases of monkeypox globally, including 171 deaths (case fatality ratio 3.7%). The symptoms normally appear between five and 13 days after infection, although it can take up to 21 days for them to appear, and can include fever, headache, muscle ache, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. Once the fever has appeared, a rash tends to erupt, concentrated on the face, hands and feet before spreading to other areas of the body. Transmission only happens through close proximity by contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, or contaminated materials such as bedding or clothes. At present, there is no specific treatment recommended for monkeypox by WHO, but there are antivirals licensed to combat orthopoxviruses, such as tecovirimat. The smallpox vaccine, which was key to eradicating smallpox decades ago, can be highly effective – 85% – in preventing monkeypox. However, as the smallpox vaccines are no longer available to the general public, a new vaccine was approved for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox in 2019 but it is not yet widely available.

Although symptoms often ease within a month, one in ten cases can be fatal. Children are particularly susceptible.

What does an employer need to know if they have a confirmed case?

The good news is that the cases in the UK are very small at present. However, if an employee does contract the disease, they are likely to be advised to self-isolate for up to 21 days while the virus is live and contagious. Where possible, employees who are self-isolating should be enabled to work from home providing they are feeling well. In that instance they would simply be working from home, on full pay and statutory sick pay (SSP) would not apply during their period of isolation.

However, if they become too ill to work during their isolation period, SSP would be applicable. Employers will need to decide whether they will require anyone who has had close contact with someone with a confirmed case of monkeypox to not come to work for the 21 days isolation period also or whether they will still require them to come in. Employers should conduct a risk assessment of the situation on a case by case basis.

If an employer asks someone who has contracted the disease but is not unwell or someone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case to stay away from the workplace, and those individuals are not able to work from home due to the nature of their work, then the employer would be, in effect, suspending them on medical grounds. In that instance, a failure to provide the employee with full pay could lead to claims of unlawful deduction from wages, as it is the employer who is refusing to allow the employee to come to work, and full pay should be given for the duration of the period of isolation.

As with Covid-19, employers should take the necessary steps to ensure any employee who could be infected does not come to the workplace because of concerns about pay, thus creating issues for others in the workplace.

If you would like any further advice or guidance on this matter, or any other, please do not hesitate to contact us on or 01245 204450.


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