Two British tourists with suspected monkeypox have been airlifted from Kefalonia in Greece using specialist isolation equipment as the disease continues to spread.

The couple were airlifted from an airport in Kefalonia just after 11pm on Saturday evening (May 21) and transported to Athens.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is conducting a Rapid Risk Assessment on the 29-year-old man from London and his girlfriend.

The man was taken to Attikon Hospital with what is believed to be the first case of monkeypox in Greece. The man’s partner was said to be asymptomatic, but was treated as a close contact.

A spokesman for Greece’s National Health Care organization EODY said: “A suspected case of possible infection with monkeypox is being investigated. It is an English tourist who, together with his companion, asymptomatic, are to be transferred to Attikon hospital in order to be treated in negative pressure rooms.

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“EODY has received samples for confirmatory examination and they were sent to a reference laboratory. Results will be available on Monday.”

The couple fell ill in Greece

The plane was carrying an isolation and transport system operated by EpiGuard, a Norwegian company, operating from one of 12 National Centers for Emergency Care in Greece. The system, known as EpiShuttle, is used to transport patients with suspected Covid, ebola, measles, tuberculosis, and now monkeypox.

The EpiShuttle can isolate any contagious patient, regardless of disease, and protect the staff and others. Ellen Cathrine Andersen, the CEO of EpiGuard, said her company steps in when patients need transport from outbreak hotspots to where ICU capacity is available, as well as offering intrahospital transfer for potentially contagious patients.

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The EpiShuttle is completely airtight, and once the patient is loaded into an EpiShuttle, medical staff do not have to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Downing Street has said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is monitoring monkeypox “extremely carefully”. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have the UK Health Security Agency who are monitoring this extremely carefully.

“The facts we know is that monkeypox is not usually spread easily between people, and the risk to others remains low. A notable portion of early cases detected have been in gay and bisexual men, so the UKHSA is urging this community in particular to be alert.

“It’s true to say that most people recover within a few weeks.”

Assos or Asos village in Kefalonia island in Greece
Assos or Asos village in Kefalonia island in Greece

Contacts of monkeypox cases are at high risk of having caught the infection and should self-isolate for 21 days, latest government guidance says.

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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) guidance now recommends that people who have had “unprotected direct contact or high-risk environmental contact” should isolate for three weeks.

This includes no travel, providing details for contact tracing and avoiding direct contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and children under 12.

Those who are considered at high risk of having caught monkeypox may have had household contact, sexual contact, or have changed an infected person’s bedding without wearing appropriate PPE.

So far the agency has confirmed 20 cases in the UK.

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