Monkeypox, a sometimes serious disease that can be transmitted to animals and humans, is usually found in central and western Africa. But the virus has now been seen far across the continent. Although the virus is not often fatal and does not spread as easily as the coronavirus, the new cases of monkeypox raise important questions about how patients far from Africa became infected.
On Friday, a WHO committee called the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential is due to meet to discuss the cases. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the WHO is convening meetings “daily” with experts from affected countries and other actors in the global health community.
The move came as Germany, France and Belgium also confirmed their first cases of monkeypox, joining a growing list of countries where cases of the rare viral disease have emerged outside the disease’s typical territory in recent years. days.
What is monkeypox, the rare virus now confirmed in the United States and Europe?
The first case in Germany was recorded in Bavaria on Thursday, according to the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, a military research center of the German armed forces.
“The Institute for Microbiology of the German Armed Forces in Munich also detected the monkeypox virus undoubtedly for the first time in Germany on May 19, 2022 in a patient with characteristic skin lesions,” reads a statement from the service. medical.
The patient is a 26-year-old Brazilian who was traveling to Germany, according to a statement from the Bavarian Ministry of Health. The man had traveled through Portugal and Spain before entering Germany and had visited Düsseldorf and Frankfurt before reaching Munich, where he had been for about a week, the statement said.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Friday it was only a “matter of time” before monkeypox made it to the country, according to state broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Lauterbach said he was confident an outbreak could be contained on a virus that does not appear to transmit easily if authorities act quickly.
“We will now analyze the virus more closely and examine whether it is a more contagious variant,” Lauterbach said, according to Reuters.
The French Ministry of Health on Friday confirmed the country’s first case of monkeypox in the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris. A 29-year-old man is not in serious condition but is self-isolating at home, the agency said in a statement. Although the man has not recently traveled to a country where monkeypox is already spreading, health authorities have launched a thorough investigation into the case, according to the French health ministry.
In Belgium, officials from the Universitair Ziekenhuis Leuven hospital said they had confirmed two cases of monkeypox in the country through whole genome sequencing.
“People who recognize injuries like the one in this photo should contact their doctor,” virologist Marc Van Ranst wrote in a tweet Friday morning, sharing photographs of the characteristic monkeypox lesions.
A spokesman for the Belgian Health and Care Agency told Reuters the first infected person was diagnosed in Antwerp. The person was not seriously ill and was now isolated with his partner. Van Ranst wrote on Twitter that the second patient was a man who was diagnosed in Flemish Brabant.
Flemish broadcaster VRTNWS reported on Friday that although the two patients were diagnosed in different parts of the country, they may have attended the same party.
Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said the government was monitoring the situation closely. “Does that mean we now have to fear a major outbreak here? We don’t think so,” Vandenbroucke told VRTNWS. “But as always, you need to exercise caution and foresight.”
Although most confirmed cases to date have been found in Europe, researchers in North America and Australia have also reported cases.
Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Friday the country had confirmed two cases of monkeypox and “just under 20” suspected cases were being investigated in Quebec. and in British Columbia. “We don’t know how much of the spread has occurred in Canada,” Tam told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
“So far we know few of them are linked to travel to Africa where the disease is normally seen, so this is unusual.”
Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s director of public health, said on Thursday that the first suspected cases of monkeypox in the region were reported on May 12 by clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, although symptoms had started weeks earlier. .
She said the suspected cases relate to men between the ages of 30 and 55 who have had sex with other men. She said most of the cases were not serious and the disease is not sexually transmitted but spread through close contact.
Canadian public health officials said the labs had not yet completed genetic sequencing of the samples and one question was the role of asymptomatic transmission. They said the risk to the general population was considered low, but stressed the need to be open-minded about the possibility that the virus has changed or evolved in some way.
“The fact that it’s now appearing in several countries in Europe as well as here in Canada — we need to know more about that,” Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said on Friday. “Has it changed? Has it changed to something different in terms of transmission and so on? »