The World Health Organization has said it plans to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not usually present.
On Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox were reported in 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the UN agency said, adding that it will provide guidance and recommendations in the coming days. countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with symptomatic cases,” the agency added.
Monkeypox is a generally mild infectious disease endemic to parts of West and Central Africa. It spreads through close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through measures such as self-isolation and hygiene.
“What seems to be happening now is that it has entered the population in a sexual form, in a genital form, and is spreading like sexually transmitted infections are, which has amplified its transmission around the world” , said David Heymann, head of the WHO. an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.
Heymann said an international committee of experts met by videoconference to consider what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is asymptomatic spread, who are most at risk. and the different routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was called “due to the urgency of the situation”. The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the main route of transmission, as typical lesions of the disease are highly contagious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health care workers, which is why some countries have started vaccinating teams treating monkeypox patients with vaccines against monkeypox. smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases were identified at sexual health clinics.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of cases in Europe suggested similarity to strain which spread in a limited way in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus had circulated outside of countries where it is endemic, but had not resulted in major outbreaks due to COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and restrictions. travel restrictions.
He pointed out that the monkeypox outbreak was not like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it is not as easily transmitted. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or have symptoms such as a bumpy rash and fever should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is that you can protect yourself,” he added.