WHO says monkeypox outbreak ‘can be contained’, with confirmed cases reaching 131

Monkeypox cases are being investigated in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia after the recent rise in the number of infections.

Gibauna Diletta | Future Publishing | Getty Images

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the recent outbreak of monkeypox in non-endemic countries “can be contained,” even as it continues to confuse health experts.

As of Tuesday, there have been 131 confirmed and 106 suspected cases of the disease since the first case was reported on May 7, according to the Public Health Authority. Cases are reported to occur in 19 countries outside Africa.

The World Health Organization said it was currently unclear whether the increase in cases was the “tip of the iceberg” or whether the peak of transmission had already been reached.

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection endemic to central and western Africa. It is spread by close contact with people, animals, or materials infected with the virus, with symptoms including rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling, and back pain.

While most cases are mild, and usually resolve within two to four weeks, health experts have been baffled by the recent rise in countries without a history of the disease and patients without travel links to endemic countries.

Western cases are increasing, primarily through sex

At least 19 countries including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain and Portugal have reported cases so far. Belgium – which currently has four cases – on Friday became the first country to impose mandatory isolation of patients, while the UK urged close contact with patients by selling isolation.

The World Health Organization said on Monday that the majority of cases are spread through sex. Although it is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, health authorities have noted a certain concentration of cases among men who have sex with other men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday alerted gay and bisexual men to take precautions if they have been in close contact with someone who may have the virus and to be on the lookout for symptoms.

“A significant proportion of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men, so we are particularly encouraging these men to be alert for symptoms,” Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK’s Health Security Agency, added on Monday. .

A mutation in the monkeypox strain is unlikely

The World Health Organization’s director of preparedness for global infectious hazards, Sylvie Briand, said Tuesday that it is unlikely that the virus has mutated. Instead, she said, its transmission may have been driven by a change in human behaviour, particularly as a result of the easing of Covid-19’s social restrictions.

The West African strain of monkeypox – identified in the current outbreak – has a mortality rate of about 1%.

A portion of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with monkeypox virus, seen at 50-fold magnification on the fourth day of rash development in 1968.

CDC | Reuters

“We encourage all of you to increase your monitoring of monkeypox to see where transmission levels are and understand where it’s going,” Briand added.

Jeremy Freer, director of global health charity Wellcome, told CNBC Monday that the recent outbreak was atypical for monkeypox.

We never had a file [monkeypox] “Before that, the epidemic was now spreading to 15 countries in three weeks,” Freer said at the World Economic Forum.

But he added that it should not be a concern for the general public just yet, noting that it is not yet a “Covid-style danger”.

“It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t worry about public health. It’s not the same as saying we shouldn’t act quickly. But is that too risky for the public? No, I don’t think it is, as of today.”

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