GENEVA – The World Health Organization’s top official in Europe called Wednesday for urgent action by authorities and civic groups to control the fast-rising cases of monkeypox that he said posed a real risk to public health.
Europe has emerged as an epicenter of outbreak of monkeypox, with more than 1,500 cases being identified in 25 European countries, which accounts for 85 percent of global cases, the official said. Hans Kluge, WHO’s director of its European region, said at a news conference.
The WHO will convene its emergency committee in Geneva next week, Kluge added, to determine if the outbreak constitutes an international concern of public health, a formal declaration that calls for a coordinated response between countries.
“The magnitude of this outbreak poses a real risk,” Dr. Kluge said. “The longer the virus circulates, the more it will expand its reach, and the greater the disease’s foothold will get in nonendemic countries.”
Monkeypox is a viral infection endemic in West Africa, but it has now spread to 39 countries, including 32 that have no previous experience of it, said the WHO director. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters on Tuesday. Countries outside Africa and Europe that have identified cases of monkeypox include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel and the United States.
Infections are the result of close physical contact and affect affected men who have sex with men, but it can also spread through respiratory droplets in face-to-face contact, said Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The news conference on Wednesday. Monkeypox cases have also been found among close family members, but the risk of transmission among the general population, Dr. Ammon said, were “rather low.”
Monkeypox is not affiliated with any single social group, Dr. Kluge said, cautioning that stigmatizing the virus as a gay disease would undermine efforts to develop an effective public health response, as it was dealing with HIV and AIDS.
The WHO has recorded 27 deaths from the disease in Africa this year but none in Europe. Infections are mild and do not require hospitalization, but people in close contact with those infected with the virus should also isolate for 21 days.
Dr. Kluge repeated his fears that the spread of the monkeypox might accelerate during the summer months in Europe when hundreds of Pride events, music festivals and other mass gatherings would be held, but he said the monkeypox was not a reason to cancel events. The gatherings provided a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the disease, he said, urging event organizers, local communities and dating apps to provide clear messaging on how to prevent or deal with the illness.
Dr. Kluge called for urgent action by European countries to scale up surveillance, diagnostic testing and genetic sequencing, and tracing the contacts and sexual partners of infected people. The WHO has released emergency funds to bolster laboratory capacity to identify the monkeypox virus in countries that lacked it, he said.
What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus
What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a virus endemic in parts of Central and West Africa. It is similar to smallpox, but less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in Monkeys for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But mass vaccination is not recommended, Dr. Kluge said, echoing comments by Dr. Tedros on Tuesday, and he underscored concerns that rich countries would repeat the mistakes of the Covid-19 pandemic and quickly monopolize the limited stocks of vaccine.
Dr. Tedros said the WHO was working with member states to develop an initiative that would ensure more equitable access but, according to Dr. Kluge, “We’re already seeing a rush to acquire and stockpile some quarters.”
The WHO is also working with experts to come up as soon as possible for another name for Monkeypox and the disease it produces, Dr. Tedros said on Tuesday.
The current name is “misleading and stigmatizing,” Christian Lindmeier, a WHO spokesman, said on Wednesday. Preliminary research points to the possibility of undetected human-to-human transmission for some years, but the current name, he said, could encourage the erroneous belief that people are not susceptible to infection while exposed to contact with Africa or animals. General Chat Chat Lounge