WHO: There are still many unknowns about monkeypox

LONDON — The World Health Organization’s top monkeypox expert said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of cases reported to date to turn into another pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns about the disease, including its exact form. that it is spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may be somehow accelerating its transmission.

In a public session on Monday, the WHO’s Dr. Rosamund Lewis said it was critical to emphasize that the vast majority of cases seen in dozens of countries around the world are gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, so that scientists can continue studying. the question. She urged those at risk to be careful.

“This is very important to describe because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may have been under-recognized in the past,” Lewis said.

“At the moment, we are not worried about a global pandemic,” he said. “We are concerned that people could acquire this infection through high-risk exposure if they don’t have the information they need to protect themselves.”

He warned that anyone is at potential risk of contracting the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that it may be accidental that the disease was first detected in gay and bisexual men, saying it could quickly spread to other groups if left unchecked.

Read more: What is monkeypox and should I be concerned?

Last week, the WHO said that 23 countries that had not previously had monkeypox have now reported more than 250 cases. On Monday, the UK announced a further 71 cases of monkeypox.

Lewis said it is unknown whether monkeypox is transmitted through sex or simply through close contact between people who are sexually active, and described the threat to the general population as “low.”

Monkeypox is known to spread when there is close physical contact with an infected person, their clothes, or their sheets.

He also warned that among the current cases, there is a higher proportion of people with more concentrated lesions in the genital region and sometimes almost impossible to see.

“You may have these lesions for two to four weeks (and) they may not be visible to others, but you can still be infectious,” he said.

Last week, a top adviser to the WHO said the monkeypox outbreak in Europe, the US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the typical pattern of disease spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals such as wild rodents and primates.

This 2003 electron microscope image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows oval-shaped mature monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a human skin sample. associated

Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP

Monkeypox in Africa

Scientists have not yet determined whether the monkeypox outbreak in rich countries can be traced back to Africa, but the disease continues to plague people on the continent.

On Monday, Congolese authorities said nine people have died of monkeypox in 2022. Dr. Aime Alongo, head of Sankuru’s health division in Congo, also said 465 cases have been confirmed, making it one of the most affected nations in West and Central Africa.

Nigerian authorities confirmed the country’s first monkeypox death this year, along with six more cases. The WHO says thousands of cases are reported each year in Nigeria and the Congo.

Most monkeypox patients only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more severe illnesses may develop rashes and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. No deaths have been reported in the current outbreak beyond Africa.

The WHO’s Lewis also said that while previous cases of monkeypox in West and Central Africa have been relatively contained, it was unclear whether people can spread monkeypox without symptoms or whether the disease could be transmitted by the air, such as measles or COVID-19.

Read more: There is already a vaccine against monkeypox. Not everyone may need it

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, but has milder symptoms. After smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, countries suspended their mass immunization programs, a move some experts believe may be helping monkeypox spread now, as there is now little widespread immunity to the diseases. related. Smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox.

Lewis said it was also unclear how much immunity people who were previously vaccinated against smallpox might still have, since that was at least four decades ago. He said WHO’s priority was to stop the current spread of monkeypox before the disease took hold in new regions.

“If we all react quickly and we all work together, we can stop this,” he predicted. “We will be able to stop it before it reaches more vulnerable people and before it becomes established as a replacement for smallpox.”

Chinedu Asadu in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report

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