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HEALTH

Madrid confirms seven monkeypox infections as suspected cases rise in Spain and Portugal

Spain and Portugal have detected over 40 suspected cases of monkeypox, a viral infection rarely seen in Europe, with both outbreaks concentrated in the Madrid and Lisbon areas, officials said Wednesday.

Madrid confirms seven monkeypox infections as suspected cases rise in Spain and Portugal
Monkeypox transmission is usually via close contact with infected animals such as rodents and monkeys, and is limited between people. It has only been fatal in rare cases. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

Seven out of the eight suspected monkeypox cases announced on Tuesday were confirmed as positive by Madrid’s health department on Wednesday.  

In a statement, health authorities in the Madrid region said they had now detected another “22 possible cases of monkeypox”, indicating all of them were believed to have been transmitted through sexual activity.

“In general, its transmission is via respiratory drops but the characteristics of the 22 suspected infections point to it being passed on through bodily fluids during sex relations,” the statement said, without giving further details.

“All of them are young adult males and most of them are men who have sexual relations with other men, but not all of them,” Elena Andradas, head of public health in the Madrid region, told Cadena Ser radio.

However, for Basilio Valladares, former vice president of the Spanish Society of Tropical Medicine, it is too early to draw conclusions as the virus can also be transmitted through saliva.

“It doesn’t have to be the saliva of a homosexual, saliva is saliva,” Valladares told the Spanish radio station.

The announcement came just days after the British health authorities said they had detected seven cases so far this month, with the World Health Organisation working with the government to investigate the outbreak.

Health officials have noted some of these infections may be through sexual contact — in this instance among gay or bisexual men — which would be a new development in understanding how the virus is transmitted. 

Another 20 suspected cases of monkeypox – endemic in parts of Central and Western Africa – have been detected in the Lisbon region, Portugal’s health ministry said in a statement.

“The cases were all among males, the majority of them young, who had ulcerated lesions,” it said.

Symptoms of monkeypox in humans include a rash which often starts on the face then moves to other parts of the body, fever, muscle ache and chills. Most people recover from the illness within several weeks.

Handout showing the rashes that develop on the skin when there is a monkeypox infection. Photo: UKHSA

Transmission is usually via close contact with infected animals such as rodents and monkeys, and is limited between people. It has only been fatal in rare cases.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), a public health protection body, on Monday said it had detected four new cases after registering three cases earlier in May.

All four of the additional cases were men who have sex with men or self-identify as gay or bisexual, it said.

None have known connections with the three earlier confirmed cases, the first of which was linked to travel from Nigeria, raising fears of community spread of the virus.

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BREXIT

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.

  

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