WHO Calls Emergency Meet as Monkeypox Cases Top 100 in Europe; Could the Disease be Next Covid?

The World Health Organization was holding an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection most common in West and Central Africa, after more than 100 cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe.

In what Germany has described as the largest outbreak in Europe ever, cases have been reported in at least nine countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK – as well as the US, Canada and Australia.

Spain reported 24 new cases on Friday, mainly in the Madrid region where the regional government closed a sauna linked to most infections.

A hospital in Israel was treating a man in his 30s with symptoms consistent with the disease after he had recently arrived from Western Europe.

First identified in monkeys, the disease usually spreads through close contact and rarely outside Africa, so this series of cases has raised concern.

However, scientists do not expect the outbreak to develop into a pandemic like COVID-19, given that the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

Monkeypox is usually a mild viral disease characterized by symptoms of fever as well as a characteristic bumpy rash.

“This is the largest and most widespread outbreak of monkeypox in Europe,” said the German armed forces medical service, which detected the country’s first case on Friday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) meeting to discuss this issue is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Risks with Epidemiological Potential and Epidemiology (STAG-IH), which provides advice on the risks of infection that could pose a global health threat.

It will not be responsible for deciding whether the outbreak should be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the WHO’s highest form of alert, which is currently being applied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There appears to be low risk to the general public at this time,” a senior administration official said.

Spread in the community

Fabian Leanderts, of the Robert Koch Institute, described the outbreak as an epidemic.

However, this epidemic is unlikely to last for long. Cases can be well isolated by tracing contacts and there are also effective medicines and vaccines that can be used if needed.

However, the WHO’s European director said he was concerned about an acceleration of infection in the region as people gather at parties and festivals during the summer months.

There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, but data shows that the vaccines used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85% effective against monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization.

British authorities said they have offered the smallpox vaccine to some health care workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox.

Since 1970, monkeypox cases have been reported in 11 African countries. Nigeria has been experiencing a major outbreak that has been ongoing since 2017. So far this year, there have been 46 suspected cases, of which 15 have been confirmed since then, according to the World Health Organization.

The first European case was confirmed on 7 May in an individual who had returned to England from Nigeria.

Since then, more than 100 cases have been confirmed outside Africa, according to tracking by an Oxford University academic.

Many of the cases are unrelated to travel to the continent. As a result, the cause of this outbreak is unclear, although health authorities have said that there is likely to be some degree of community spread.

sexual health clinics

The WHO said the early cases were unusual for three reasons: All but one had no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox was endemic. Most are detected through sexual health services and among men who have sex with men, and the wide geographical spread throughout Europe and beyond suggests that transmission may have been ongoing for some time.

In Britain, where 20 cases have been confirmed so far, the UK’s Health Security Agency said the latest cases in the country were mostly among men who identified themselves as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

Portugal detected nine more cases on Friday, bringing the total to 23.

The previous number of 14 cases detected in sexual health clinics were men between the ages of 20 and 40 who identified themselves as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

Alessio D’Amato, health commissioner for Italy’s Lazio region, said it was too early to say whether the disease had turned into a sexually transmitted disease. Three cases have been reported so far in the country.

“I think the idea that there is some kind of sexual transmission in this is a bit of a stretch,” said Stuart Neal, professor of virology at King’s College London.

The World Health Organization said scientists are sequencing the virus from different states to see if they are linked. The agency is expected to provide an update soon.

MONKEYPOX CAN ACCELERATE

A senior European health official warned Friday that cases of the rare monkeypox virus could accelerate in the coming months, as the virus spreads across Europe.

“As we enter the summer season … with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge.

The health official warned that transmission could be boosted by the fact that “the cases currently detected are among those engaged in sexual activity”, and many do not recognize the symptoms.

Most of the initial cases of the disease were among men who had sex with men and sought treatment at sexual health clinics, Kluge said, adding that “this indicates that transmission may have been ongoing for some time.”

With input from AFP and Reuters

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