The World Health Organization (WHO) expects to see more cases of monkeypox as surveillance is expanded in countries where the disease is uncommon. The UN agency said that as of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox had been reported from 12 non-endemic member states, and that it will provide more guidance and recommendations in the coming days for countries on how to stop the virus from spreading. According to the CDC, "available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with symptomatic cases."
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa and is usually mild. Although it is a member of the same virus family as smallpox, it has less severe symptoms. People usually recover without needing to be hospitalized in two to four weeks, but the disease can be fatal. Because it is spread through close contact, it is relatively easy to contain using self-isolation and hygiene.
"What appears to be happening now is that it has entered the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as sexually transmitted infections," said WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist. According to Heymann, an international committee of experts met via video conference to discuss what needed to be researched and communicated to the public about the outbreak, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who is most at risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He explained that the meeting was called "due to the urgency of the situation." The committee is not likely to recommend that the COVID-19 pandemic be declared a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of WHO alert. Close contact, he said, was the main mode of transmission because the disease's lesions are highly infectious. Parents caring for sick children, as well as health workers, are at risk, which is why some countries have begun inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients with smallpox vaccines.
‘You can protect yourself’
The new cases of monkeypox detected in Europe and the United States, according to US President Joe Biden, are "to be concerned about." "It is a concern in that if it were to spread, it would be consequential," Biden said in his first public comments on the disease. They haven't said how much exposure there is, but it is something that everyone should be concerned about. We're putting in a lot of effort to figure out what we should do."
He went on to say that research is underway to see what vaccines would be beneficial. Early genomic sequencing of a few of the cases in Europe has revealed a resemblance to the strain that spread in Britain, Israel, and Singapore in 2018. Heymann said it was "biologically plausible" that the virus had been circulating outside of the nations where it is endemic, but that COVID-19 lockdowns, social isolation, and travel restrictions had prevented major breakouts.
He emphasized that the monkeypox outbreak was not like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic since it is not as easily transmitted. Those who fear they've been exposed or are experiencing symptoms such as a bumpy rash or fever should avoid close contact with others. "Vaccines are accessible," Heymann added, "but the most important lesson is that you can protect yourself."
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