More than 1,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 29 countries that are not endemic to the disease and the risk of the virus becoming established in non-endemic countries is “real”, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
Addressing a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday (June 8), the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the global health agency is “concerned” about the risks of this virus for vulnerable groups including children and pregnant women.
“More than 1,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported to WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic for the disease. So far, no deaths have been reported in these countries. It’s clearly concerning that monkeypox is spreading in countries where it has not been seen before,” Tedros said.
What did WHO expert say?
WHO expert and the technical lead for the monkeypox outbreak, Dr. Rosamund Lewis said cases being reported now primarily in the non-endemic setting were still “primarily of men who have sex with men”.
“There are a few reports now of cases amongst women… at the moment there is still a window of opportunity to prevent the onward spread of monkeypox in those who are at highest risk right now,” Lewis added.
The sudden and unexpected appearance of monkeypox in several non-endemic countries suggests that there might have been undetected transmission for some time, Tedros said.
Last week, the WHO hosted a consultation with more than 500 researchers to “review what we know and don’t know, and to identify research priorities”.
“We’re also working with UNAIDS, civil society organisations and communities of men who have sex with men to listen to their questions and provide information on what monkeypox is and how to avoid it,” he said.
Vaccines for monkeypox
The ways for people to protect themselves and others – people with symptoms should isolate themselves at home and consult a health worker. Those who share a household with an infected person should avoid close contact, according to the WHO.
“There are antivirals and vaccines approved for monkeypox, but these are in limited supply. WHO is developing a coordination mechanism for the distribution of supplies based on public health needs and fairness,” Tedros said.
The WHO said it doesn’t recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox.
Cases in Africa
So far this year there have been more than 1,400 suspected cases of monkeypox in Africa, and 66 deaths, Tedros said.
“This virus has been circulating and killing in Africa for decades. It’s an unfortunate reflection of the world we live in that the international community is only now paying attention to monkeypox because it has appeared in high-income countries. The communities that live with the threat of this virus every day deserve the same concern, the same care and the same access to tools to protect themselves,” he added.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox virus is an orthopoxvirus that causes a disease with symptoms similar, but less severe, to smallpox. While smallpox was eradicated in 1980, monkeypox continues to occur in countries of central and west Africa. Two distinct clade are identified: the west African clade and the Congo Basin clade, also known as the central African clade, according to the WHO.
Monkeypox is a zoonosis: a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. Cases are often found close to tropical rainforests where there are animals that carry the virus. Evidence of monkeypox virus infection has been found in animals including squirrels, Gambian poached rats, dormice, different species of monkeys and others, it said.