The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox globally, as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.
On May 16, 2022, there was a multi-country outbreak of monkeypox in the UK, European Union, The European Economic Area (EEA) states, and North America. WHO said, as of Sunday, May 22, 2022, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox had been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic to the virus. The UN agency added that it will provide further guidance and recommendations in the coming days for countries to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic.”World Health Organization (WHO)
The Disease’s Nature
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild and is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa. Although it belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, its symptoms are milder.
Per the research conducted, people usually recover within two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalised, but the disease is occasionally deadly. It is spread by close contact so it can be relatively quickly contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene.
According to WHO’s official Infectious Disease Specialist, David Heymann, “What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world”.
Heymann said an International Committee of experts met via a video conference to look at what was needed to be studied about the outbreak, in order to communicate with the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, people who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation”. The Committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, which is WHO’s highest form of alert, just as it applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, the decision to declare the highest form of alert rests with top WHO directors.
However, Heymann said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions (any damage or abnormal change in the tissue of an organism, usually caused by disease or trauma) typical of the disease is very infectious. Citing examples of persons likely to contract the disease, he said, parents caring for sick children are at risk, so as health workers, hence, the reason for some countries beginning to protect teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox. According to the WHO, many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.
Must the World be Concerned?
US President, Joe Biden, said on Sunday, May 22, 2022, that the recent cases of monkeypox identified in Europe and the United States were something “to be concerned about”.
In his first public comments on the disease, Biden intimated that “It is a concern in that if it were to spread, it would be consequential. They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet but it is something that everybody should be concerned about. We’re working on it hard to figure out what we can do”. He added that efforts are underway to determine what vaccine might be effective.
Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) disclosed that new figures would be released on Monday, May 23, 2022, after it registered 20 cases on Friday, May 20, 2022. In responding to a question on whether community transmission is now the norm in Britain, UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser, Susan Hopkins said “absolutely”.
“We are finding cases that have no identified contact with an individual from West Africa, which is what we’ve seen previously in this country. We are detecting more cases on a daily basis.”UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser, Susan Hopkins
Hopkins also said the outbreak is concentrated in urban areas, among gay or bisexual men. “The risk of the general population remains extremely low at the moment, and I think people need to be alert to it”, she said, adding that for most adults, symptoms would be “relatively mild”.
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