Unlikely monkeypox outbreak will turn into a pandemic, WHO says

The World Health Organization said on Monday it does not believe the monkeypox epidemic currently spreading around the world will develop into a pandemic.

Since May 13, at least 257 cases of the rare disease have been confirmed in 23 countries where the virus is not endemic – mainly in Europe and North America – and 120 are suspected.

Of those infections, 14 are confirmed or suspected in eight US states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, no deaths have been reported in non-endemic countries.

The disease is not usually found outside of central and western African countries, raising concerns of community transmission.

According to the WHO, at present there is no clear link between reported cases and travel from endemic countries.

This image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a monkeypox virus particle obtained from a sample of human skin.

Cynthia S. Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control/AFP via Getty Images

When asked in a public session on Monday whether the recent outbreak could develop into a pandemic, Dr Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, replied: “The answer is that we don’t know. , but we don’t think so.”

“At this time, we are not concerned about a global pandemic,” Lewis continued.

Other public health officials have said the risk of spread is generally low.

The WHO said the majority of cases have been reported in men who identify as gay, bisexual or have sex with men. Monkeypox can still be transmitted to anyone exposed to it.

“We are concerned that individuals could acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they don’t have the information they need to protect themselves,” Lewis said.

She offered recommendations for people to reduce their risk of infection, including avoiding those with confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox and – if caring for someone with the disease – avoiding contact. skin to skin, washing hands regularly, wearing a mask and cleaning contaminated surfaces.

“Collectively, the world has an opportunity to stop this epidemic,” Lewis said. “There is a window of opportunity where this can be contained.”

When people are infected with monkeypox, it is usually a mild illness with the most common symptoms being fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, back pain, and swollen lymph nodes .

Patients may develop a rash and sores that often start on the face and extremities before spreading to the rest of the body. Symptoms usually last two to four weeks before dissipating.

Animals transmit the disease to humans through a bite or scratch, and people can also catch monkeypox by preparing and consuming infected bushmeat.

Human-to-human transmission occurs either through prolonged hugging, touching or face-to-face contact, or by touching the clothing or bedding of an infected person.

The WHO said there are many “unknowns” about the outbreak, including whether the virus is transmitted sexually or through close contact during sex. It’s also unclear whether monkeypox can spread if a person is asymptomatic.

However, officials stressed that the risk to the general public remains low and should not be compared to COVID-19.

“Monkeypox is very different from COVID-19,” said Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention at WHO, during the open session. “We don’t want people to panic or be scared and think maybe it’s like COVID only worse.”

She added, “This monkeypox disease is not COVID-19. It’s a different virus; it’s a different disease.”

ABC News’ Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

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