Monkeypox likely spread undetected ‘for some time’: WHO | News from the World Health Organization


The World Health Organization (WHO) said hundreds of cases of monkeypox have emerged beyond African countries where the disease is usually detected, warning that the virus has likely spread under the radar.

“Investigations are ongoing, but the sudden appearance of monkeypox in many countries at the same time suggests that there may have been undetected transmission for some time,” the WHO director-general said Wednesday. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Since the UK first reported a confirmed case of monkeypox on May 7, more than 550 confirmed cases of the disease have been verified in 30 countries outside of the West and Central African countries where it is endemic, the WHO said.

Rosamund Lewis, the UN health agency’s top monkeypox specialist, said the outbreak of so many cases in much of Europe and other countries where it is not has never been seen before “is clearly cause for concern, and suggests undetected transmission for some time.” .

“We don’t know if it’s weeks or months or maybe a few years,” she said, adding “we don’t really know if it’s too late to contain.”

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, which killed millions of people worldwide each year before being eradicated in 1980.

But monkeypox, which is spread through close contact, is much less serious, with symptoms usually including high fever and a chickenpox-like rash that goes away after a few weeks.

Call to fight stigma

So far, most cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, although experts point out that there is no evidence that monkeypox is sexually transmitted.

“Anyone can get infected with monkeypox if they have close physical contact with someone else who is infected,” Tedros said.

He urged everyone to help “address stigma, which is not only bad, it could also prevent infected people from seeking treatment, making it harder to stop transmission.”

The WHO, he said, “also urges affected countries to expand their surveillance.”

Lewis insisted it was vital “that we all work together to prevent the spread”, through contact tracing and the isolation of people with the disease.

Vaccines developed against smallpox have also been shown to be around 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, but they are rare.

WHO does not suggest mass vaccination, but rather targeted use in certain settings to protect health workers and those most at risk of infection.

Lewis pointed out that cases of monkeypox have also increased in endemic countries, where thousands of people fall ill with the disease each year, with around 70 deaths from the virus reported in five African countries so far this year.

The death rate from monkeypox is generally quite low and no deaths have been reported among confirmed cases outside of endemic countries.

But Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s head of emerging diseases, warned that while no deaths had been reported, that could change if the virus spread to more vulnerable populations.

Endemic disease alert

Meanwhile, WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan warned on Wednesday that outbreaks of endemic diseases, including monkeypox and Lassa fever, are becoming more persistent and frequent.

As climate change contributes to rapidly changing weather patterns like drought, animals and humans are changing their foraging behavior. As a result, diseases that typically circulate in animals are increasingly spreading to humans, he said.

“Unfortunately,” Ryan warned, “this ability to amplify this disease and advance it within our communities is increasing – so the disease emergence and amplifying factors have increased.”


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