WHO calls emergency meeting as monkeypox cases top 100 in Europe

The World Health Organization was due to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection more common in West and Central Africa, after more than 100 cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe.

In what Germany has described as Europe’s largest-ever outbreak, cases have been reported in at least eight European countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain , Sweden and the United Kingdom – as well as in the United States, Canada and Australia.

First identified in monkeys, the disease is usually spread through close contact and has rarely spread outside of Africa, so this series of cases has raised concerns.

Read also | Explained: Monkeypox, Its Symptoms, And Its Prevention

However, scientists do not expect the outbreak to evolve into a pandemic like Covid-19, given that the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

Monkeypox is usually a mild viral illness, characterized by symptoms of fever along with a characteristic bumpy rash.

“With several confirmed cases in the UK, Spain and Portugal, this is the largest and most widespread outbreak of monkeypox ever seen in Europe,” said the German Armed Forces Medical Service, which detected its first case in the country on Friday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) committee due to meet is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which advises on the risks of infection that could pose a threat to global health.

He would not be responsible for deciding whether the outbreak should be declared a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO’s highest form of alert, which is currently applied to the Covid-19 pandemic.

COMMUNITY SPREAD

Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute described the outbreak as an epidemic.

“However, this outbreak is very unlikely to last for long. Cases can be isolated well through contact tracing and there are also effective drugs and vaccines that can be used if needed,” he said.

Read also | UK confirms 11 new cases of monkeypox

Still, the European head of the WHO said he fears infections could accelerate in the region as people gather for parties and festivals over the summer months.

There is no specific vaccine against monkeypox, but data shows that vaccines used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85% effective against monkeypox, according to the WHO.

British authorities said on Thursday they had offered a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox.

Since 1970, cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries. Nigeria has been experiencing a major outbreak since 2017 – so far this year there have been 46 suspected cases, 15 of which have since been confirmed, according to the WHO.

The first European case was confirmed on May 7 in an individual who had returned to England from Nigeria.

Since then, more than 100 cases have been confirmed outside Africa, according to an academic tracker at the University of Oxford.

Many cases are unrelated to travel to the mainland. As a result, the cause of this outbreak is unclear, although health authorities have said there is potentially some degree of community spread.

SEXUAL HEALTH CLINICS

The WHO said the first cases were unusual for three reasons: all but one have no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox is endemic; most are detected by sexual health services and among men who have sex with men, and the wide geographical distribution across Europe and beyond suggests transmission may have been going on for some time.

Read also | WHO fears monkeypox could spread in Europe as people party this summer

In Britain, where 20 cases have now been confirmed, the UK Health Security Agency said recent cases in the country have mainly been in men who have identified as gay, bisexual or who have sex with men.

The 14 cases in Portugal were all detected at sexual health clinics and involved men between the ages of 20 and 40 who identified as gay, bisexual or who have sex with men.

Spanish health authorities said 23 new cases were confirmed on Friday, mostly in the Madrid region where most infections were linked to an adult sauna outbreak.

It was too early to tell if the disease turned into a sexually transmitted disease, said Alessio D’Amato, health commissioner for Italy’s Lazio region. Three cases have been reported so far in the country.

Sexual contact, by definition, is close contact, added Stuart Neil, professor of virology at Kings College London.

“The idea that there’s some sort of sexual transmission in there, I think, is a bit of a stretch,” he said.

Scientists are sequencing the virus from different cases to see if they are linked, the WHO said. The agency is expected to provide an update soon.