Monkey pox is probably spreading under the radar “For a while,” says the WHO

The WHO said on Wednesday that hundreds of cases of monkeypox had occurred outside African countries, where the disease usually occurs, and warned that the virus was likely to spread under radar.

“Investigations are ongoing, but the sudden outbreak of smallpox in many countries also suggests that there may have been an undetected transmission for some time,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. he told reporters.

Since Britain first reported a confirmed case of monkeypox, more than 550 confirmed cases of the disease have been reported in 30 countries outside West and Central Africa, where it is endemic, the WHO said.

Top smallpox expert Rosamund Lewis of the UN Health Agency said that the incidence of so many cases in much of Europe and other countries where they had not been observed “is clearly a cause for concern and suggests an undetected transmission for some time.”

“We don’t know if it’s been weeks, months or maybe a few years,” she said, adding that “we don’t really know if it’s too late to arrest them.”

Monkeypox is associated with smallpox, which killed millions worldwide each year before it was eradicated in 1980.

Fight the stigma

But chickenpox, which is spread by close contact, is much less severe, with symptoms typically including high fever and a chickenpox-like rash that goes away after a few weeks.

To date, most cases have been reported among men who have had sex with men, although experts point out that there is no evidence that monkey pox is transmitted sexually.

“Anyone can get chickenpox if they have close physical contact with someone else who is infected,” Tedros said.

He called on everyone to help “combat stigma, which is not only bad, it could also prevent infected individuals from seeking care, making it more difficult to stop transmission”.

The WHO, he said, also “urged the affected countries to expand their surveillance.”

Lewis insisted that it was vital “that together we should prevent further spread” by monitoring contacts and isolating people with the disease.

Vaccines developed against smallpox have also been found to be about 85 percent effective in preventing smallpox, but there is a lack of them.

The WHO does not propose mass vaccination, but rather targeted use in some settings to protect healthcare professionals and those most at risk of infection.

Lewis pointed out that smallpox cases have also increased in endemic countries, where thousands of people become ill each year, with about 70 deaths from the virus reported in five African countries so far this year.

Mortality from smallpox is usually relatively low, and no deaths have been reported in endemic countries.

However, Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases, warned that although no deaths have been reported, this could change if the virus reaches more vulnerable populations.

© French media agency


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