The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday that the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee had been convened in response to the spread of the Monkeypox virus to 32 non-endemic countries.
On June 23, experts will meet to determine whether the ongoing outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the highest level of global alert currently applicable only to the COVID-19 pandemic and polio.
This year, more than 1,600 confirmed cases and nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported to WHO from 39 countries, including seven where monkeypox has been detected for years and 32 new countries.
At least 72 people have died in previously affected areas. So far, no deaths have been reported from the newly affected countries, but the agency is investigating reports of related death in Brazil.
“The global outbreak of Monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning”, said WHO director Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, calling to step up the response and international coordination.
According to Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO Deputy Director for Emergency Response, the risk of spread in Europe is “high,” while the rest of the world is “moderate,” and there are still knowledge gaps about how the virus is transmitted.
“We don’t want to wait until the situation is out of control”, he said.
Monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but is much less severe.
Infections are typically mild, and the risk to the general population is low, but the UK government has purchased stocks of smallpox vaccine in preparation for additional cases.
In recent months, the virus has spread in an unusually rapid manner around the world. Previous outbreaks have primarily occurred in parts of Africa where rodents, rather than monkeys, are thought to be the primary animal host.
The infection causes a rash that resembles chickenpox. When someone comes into close contact with an infected person, the virus can spread.
It has never been identified as a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be spread through close contact.
Anyone infected with the virus should avoid sex while experiencing symptoms.
Monkeypox in the UK
As of June 12, there were 452 confirmed cases in England, 12 in Scotland, 2 in Northern Ireland, and 4 in Wales.
UK Health Security Agency investigation revealed that four-fifths of people infected with monkeypox in England live in London.
The agency added that after analysing 336 of the 366 confirmed cases found in the UK since the outbreak began last month, 99% of those infected are men, with an average age of 38.
In addition, 64% had met new sexual partners during their incubation period through a dating app. Incubation lasts anywhere between five and 21 days.
In interviews with 45 men with monkeypox about their sexual health, it was discovered that 44 percent had visited “sex-on-premises venues” in the UK or abroad, such as saunas, sex clubs, and dark rooms, while the infection was incubating.
Furthermore, 64% had met new sexual partners through a dating app during their incubation period. Incubation can last anywhere from five to twenty-one days.
WHO’s Monkeypox Move
On Tuesday, the WHO also released new guidelines for monkeypox vaccination.
There are also newer and safer (second and third generation) smallpox vaccines available, some of which may be useful for Monkeypox and one of which (MVA-BN) has been approved for disease prevention.
According to WHO, the supply of these new vaccines is limited, and access strategies are being discussed.
“At this time, the World Health Organization does not recommend mass vaccination. Decisions about the use of smallpox or Monkeypox vaccines should be based on a full assessment of the risks and benefits in each case,” the guidelines indicate.
Moreover, the World Health Organization also said that it is working with experts to develop a new name for monkeypox.
It comes after more than 30 scientists expressed an “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name for the virus and the disease it causes last week.
Swine flu, polio, Ebola, Zika, and Covid are the only other diseases that have occurred in the past which led WHO to set this alarm.