Northern Ireland will see further cases of monkeypox, the chief medical officer Michael McBride has predicted.

Mr McBride was speaking as the North's Public Health Agency confirmed that the first case of the virus identified on the island of Ireland today.

The CMO said he was confident that stringent public health measures would stop the disease from becoming endemic.

Health chiefs have also stressed that chances of infection remain low.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was is "inevitable" that monkeypox will be detected in the Republic.

The Tanaiste said: "We're not aware of any cases in the Republic of Ireland as of yet but it's almost inevitable - in fact, it is inevitable - that there will be cases in the Republic of Ireland."

He said the HSE has set up a group to monitor the situation.

Mr Varadkar added: "We don't anticipate that this is going to be a public health emergency, like Covid, for example."

"There are a number of outbreaks now around the world," he said.

"The HSE is monitoring the situation very closely and making sure that healthcare professionals are informed as to what the symptoms are. So if people do have monkeypox, then it can be identified quickly."

Dr Gillian Armstrong, head of health protection at Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency, said: "The PHA has been working closely with trusts and GPs to raise awareness of the disease, and set up testing arrangements and clinical pathways.

"Cases of monkeypox are rare as the virus does not spread easily between people; therefore the risk to the Northern Ireland population is considered low.

"Appropriate public health actions are being taken and the PHA is working with UKHSA to investigate any potential links with UK cases and we will contact any potential close contacts to provide health information and advice."

Dr Armstrong said that most people who contract monkeypox would recover within a few weeks.

She added: "It is spread through very close person-to-person contact, or contact with items used by a person who has monkeypox, such as bed linen.

"We would like to urge anybody who thinks they might be at risk of exposure, particularly those who have developed an unusual rash or lesion on any part of their body, particularly the genital area, and especially those who have a recent new sexual partner, to limit their contact with others and to contact their GP.

"A notable proportion of the cases so far have been identified in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. We are asking these people in particular to be aware of their symptoms.

"We will be conducting contact tracing to identify any of those who might be high-risk contacts to be advised to self-isolate or who might be eligible for a vaccination to prevent them going on to develop the monkeypox disease."

Mr McBride said the risk to the general population is low.

He added: "I can certainly say that I am fairly confident we will see further cases.

"What we want to do is to prevent this becoming established as an endemic infection in the United Kingdom because it isn't at this time.

"We have a very good chance of doing that by taking all the steps we are currently doing."

More than a dozen countries report monkeypox cases

Earlier the European Union's disease agency said the number of confirmed cases of monkeypox worldwide has reached 219 outside of countries where it is endemic.

More than a dozen countries where monkeypox is unusual, mostly in Europe, have reported at least one confirmed case, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in an epidemiological note released last night.

Wales confirmed its first case of monkeypox this morning.

"This is the first time that chains of transmission are reported in Europe without known epidemiological links to West or Central Africa, where this disease is endemic," the note said.

It added that most of the cases were detected in young men.

The UK - where monkeypox's unusual appearance was first detected in early May - currently has the largest bulk of confirmed cases, with 71.

It is followed by Spain with 51 cases and Portugal, 37.

Outside of Europe, Canada has 15 and the United States has nine.

The total number of cases reported yesterday increased fivefold since its first count on 20 May, when the EU agency said there were 38 cases.

Read more:

All you need to know about monkeypox

Contagion risk is "very low", the ECDC said earlier this week, but warned that people who have had multiple sexual partners - regardless of sexual orientation - are more at risk.

"The clinical presentation is generally described to be mild," it said, adding that there have been no deaths.

Monkeypox - a less severe disease compared to its cousin smallpox - is endemic in 11 countries in West and Central Africa.

It spreads by a bite or direct contact with an infected animal's blood, meat or bodily fluids, and initial symptoms include a high fever before quickly developing into a rash.

People infected with it also get a chickenpox-like rash on their hands and face.

No treatment exists, but the symptoms usually clear up after two to four weeks, and it is not usually fatal.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the emerging disease lead for the World Health Organization, said on Monday that monkeypox is a "containable situation".

Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian de Gascun said that he "wouldn't be surprised at all" to see cases of monkeypox identified in the Republic, but said he expected it to be a small number.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Dr de Gascun said the laboratory had started testing suspected cases last week.

"We've tested fewer than ten suspect cases at this point and, thankfully, none of these turned out to be monkeypox, but it wouldn't be a surprise, given what we are seeing in other countries."

He added: "We know the incubation period for Monkeypox ranges from typically one to two weeks and can be up to three weeks, so the cases that are being identified now really would have been acquired potentially two to three weeks ago, so it's likely that more cases will be identified and then it's a question of controlling it to ensure that we don't get significant onward transmission and with monkeypox that should be fairly doable."

He said traditionally monkeypox is not considered to be a very infectious virus, but it is "important that we enhance our surveillance in endemic regions so that we can control it there and prevent it spreading globally".

Resumption of travel a 'likely explanation' for spread

Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has said that "we should not let our guard down" regarding monkeypox.

Speaking to RTÉ's Drivetime, Professor McKee said: "We should be concerned about all new infections. One of the things that we really should have learned from the Covid pandemic is that in any situation in which you have changes in the relationship between humans and animals in the natural environment, you have the risk for new infections to spread both between animals and humans and between humans onwards.

"So for that reason, we should not be complacent about any infection, but of all the things that could be happening, probably this is towards the lower end, and that doesn't mean we should let our guard down at all."

He said that the resumption of travel since the Covid-19 pandemic is part of the reason that we are seeing monkeypox spread now.

"One of the working hypotheses is that this has been increasing in parts of Africa over the last few years and it may well be that with the resumption of movement, as the pandemic is subsiding, we're now seeing spread elsewhere, and that I think, is probably the most likely explanation that the minute," he added.