WHO says monkeypox has spread undetected as global case count rises to more than 550

In this photo illustration, a photo of a hand infected with Monkeypox virus is seen through a magnifying glass. Monkeypox is a viral disease that occurs mainly in central and western Africa.

Raphael Henrique | Light flare | Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Wednesday confirmed more than 550 cases of monkeypox in 30 countries as the virus continues to spread across the globe.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the sudden appearance of monkeypox in several countries around the world indicates that the virus has been spreading undetected for some time outside West African countries and center where it is usually located.

The virus may have spread for months or years undetected, although investigations are ongoing and there are no clear answers yet, according to WHO technical officer Dr Rosamund Lewis for monkeypox.

“We don’t really know if it’s too late to contain. What the WHO and all member states are trying to do is prevent the spread,” Lewis told a press conference at Geneva on Wednesday. Contact tracing and isolation of patients with monkeypox are key to stopping the spread, she said.

Tedros said most cases were reported by men who sought care at sexual health clinics after having sex with other men and developing symptoms. He stressed that anyone can catch monkeypox through close physical contact, cautioned against stigmatizing people and called on countries to increase surveillance to identify cases in the general population.

Symptoms of monkeypox usually go away on their own, Tedros said, although the illness can be severe in some cases. No deaths have been reported from the current outbreaks in North America and Europe. However, monkeypox has not yet spread among more vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children in these areas, said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for Covid-19.

However, the WHO has been monitoring monkeypox in Africa for five decades and deaths are reported on the continent every year, Lewis said. More than 70 monkeypox deaths were reported in five African countries in 2022, she said. Cases of monkeypox have increased in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent years, possibly because vaccination against smallpox was discontinued in 1980. Monkeypox belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, although it is more benign.

“Herd immunity in the human population since that time has not been what it was at the time of smallpox eradication,” Lewis said. “Anyone under the age of 40 or 50, depending on the country you were born in or where you may have received your smallpox vaccine, would no longer have that protection against that particular vaccine.”

The WHO and member countries have maintained stockpiles of smallpox vaccines, although these are mostly first-generation vaccines that do not meet current standards, Lewis said. There are also next-generation vaccines and treatments for smallpox, but supply is limited. The WHO is working with companies to increase access to these new vaccines and treatments, she said.

“WHO does not recommend mass vaccination. There is no need for mass vaccination,” Lewis said. Currently, the virus is mainly spreading in one specific community, men who have sex with men, and it is important to provide individuals in this community with the information they need to protect themselves and prevent further spread. of the virus, she said.

The largest outbreaks of monkeypox outside of Africa are in Europe, particularly the UK, Spain and Portugal. The United States has reported at least 15 cases in nine states.

Monkeypox usually begins with flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes. Infectious lesions then form on the body. Monkeypox is transmitted primarily through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with these lesions. A person is no longer considered contagious once the lesions have cleared and a new layer of skin has formed.

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