The World Health Organization said Monday that monkeypox outbreaks in non-endemic countries could be contained and human-to-human transmission of the virus stopped. There have been less than 200 confirmed and suspected cases registered so far, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO head of the emerging disease.
“This is a containable situation, particularly in the countries where we’re seeing these outbreaks happening across Europe, and in North America as well,” Van Kerkhove said in a live chat on the UN health agency’s social media channels. We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in non-endemic countries.”
She added, “We are in a position where we can use public health tools for early identification and support isolation of cases. We can stop human-to-human transmission.” The disease is considered endemic in 11 African countries.
Van Kerkhove said transmission was occurring by “close physical contact: skin-to-skin contact,” and that most people identified so far have not had a serious case of the disease.
Rosamund Lewis, who heads the smallpox secretariat in the WHO’s emergency program, said monkeypox has been known for at least 40 years, and a few cases have appeared in Europe in the past five years in travelers from endemic areas. However, she said, “This is the first time we’re seeing cases across so many countries at the same time and people who haven’t traveled to endemic areas in Africa.”
She cited Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “It is mainly found in the animal kingdom in forest areas. Now we see it more in urban areas,” she said.
It was not yet known whether the virus had mutated or not, Lewis said, but viruses in the broader group of orthopoxviruses “do not tend to mutate and tend to be fairly stable.” “We don’t have evidence yet of a mutation in the virus itself,” she said. She added that virologists will study the first genetic sequence of the next virus.
Van Kerkhove said a major global meeting next week will discuss research, epidemiology, diagnosis, treatments and vaccines.
While the virus can be caught through sexual activity, it is not a sexually transmitted disease, said Andy Seal, a strategy advisor for the World Health Organization’s programs to combat HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases.
While we are seeing some cases among MSM, this is not a homosexual disease, as some people in social media have attempted to describe. This is just not the case. This demographic is generally a demographic that really cares about health screening… They have been proactive in responding to unusual symptoms. Anyone can get monkeypox through close contact,” Seal added.
As surveillance expands, Van Kerkhove added, experts expected to see more cases. As of May 21, the WHO has received reports of 92 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox and 28 suspected cases from 12 non-endemic countries, including several European countries, the United States, Australia and Canada.
On Monday, Denmark’s infectious disease control agency, the State Security Investigations, reported that the first case had been confirmed in the Scandinavian country.
The risk of monkeypox spreading widely ‘very low’: the European Union
The European Health Agency, ECDC, also said the risk of the rare monkeypox spreading widely in the general population was “very low”, although it was high for certain groups.
“Most of the current cases have had mild disease symptoms, and for the broader population, the potential for spread is very low,” Andrea Amon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a statement. “However, the potential for the virus to spread through close contact, for example during sexual activities between people with multiple sexual partners, is considered to be high,” she added.
According to the ECDC, the virus can cause serious illness among certain groups such as “young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immunity.” The agency also noted the risk of “human-to-animal transmission” and said that if the virus spreads to animals, “there is a risk that the disease will become endemic to Europe.”
“I am concerned about the increasing number of monkeypox cases reported in the European Union and the world. We are monitoring the situation closely,” said Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. It is important to “stay vigil”, ensure contact tracing and the ability to make a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face. There is no cure, but symptoms usually go away after two to four weeks.
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